Explorer Victor Vescovo Discovers World’s Deepest Wreck – A US Navy Warship –At 6,895 Meters
When USS Destroyer Escort Samuel B. Roberts, affectionately known as ‘Sammy B’, sunk in 1944, it was thought she was lost forever, but thanks to one of the world’s most prolific explorers, she’s been found. The mission to uncover the wreck was led by Victor Vescovo, founder of Caladan Oceanic, who together with EYOS Expeditions, piloted DSSV Pressure Drop to seek out the vessel. She was found resting on a slope at a depth of 6,895 meters, making her the world’s deepest wreck.
Vescovo has completed some incredible expeditions during his life, including being the first person to visit the deepest points of all Earth’s five oceans, but as a retired naval officer, this mission was particularly close to his heart. We spoke to the explorer about the importance of the discovery and the challenges of deep sea diving.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle in history, and the action off Samar Island in October 1944 was the closing act on the American victory. The battle in which the Samuel B. Roberts, or “Sammy B” as she is affectionately known in historical circles, was was the last real surface engagement in the Pacific War. It was one of the most brave and epic battles in naval history and the Sammy B, a tiny ship in comparison to the behemoths she fought, set an amazing example of courage. And, of course, she is now the deepest shipwreck ever discovered and surveyed. Some of my crew have joked that she is so deep because she’s trying to get to the very gates of hell, to keep fighting there, too.
How did you learn about the wreck – and why was it so important to you to locate it?
I first learned about the Sammy B during my study of naval history when I was an officer in the US Navy. The tale of her crew’s bravery is well known in military circles but it was acknowledged that we would never probably find her because she sank in such unusually deep water – right over the Philippine Trench, which is one of only four 10,000 meter-deep trenches in the world. However, over the last few years, my team and I developed the first submersible capable of diving to any point on the seafloor, repeatedly and reliably, so I felt it was a bit of my duty to at least try and find her, to help give closure to the families of those who died on her and have a chance to retell her amazing story.
Why is a yacht the perfect base for completing an expedition of this kind?
I never refer to my support ship, the DSSV Pressure Drop, as a yacht. It was a former US Navy military vessel that was used to hunt Soviet submarines in the Cold War. I served a lot on US Navy ships, so she is fitted out more like that than anything luxurious. She is almost Spartan in a way. But she is ultra quiet by design, has a world-class sonar suite, is a bit slow but very fuel-efficient, and is a perfect ship for my team and I to focus on the type of ultra deep missions we execute. She is a first class, one of a kind, ultra-deep research support vessel.
How did you prepare for the mission?
We located and dove on the USS Johnston last year, which until this week was the deepest wreck ever discovered. We did an immense amount of historical research to narrow the area we had to scan, since the ocean is very, very big. I also commissioned the development and construction of a custom-built sidescan sonar which could operate far beyond the industry-standard 6000-meter mark which would help us locate the wreckage.
Quite a lot of specific preparation and technical development was needed to prosecute a mission like this. Doing anything in water deeper than a few thousand meters is incredibly hard, because the thousands of pounds of pressure, freezing temperatures, and corrosive salt water makes life hell for any mechanical devices operating down there. Plus, the missions themselves are nine to ten hours long, so that is a bit of a physical endurance challenge since the pilot and sonar operator are in this small titanium ball all that time.
Please talk us through the moment when you discovered the wreck.
It is always an incredibly exciting moment to come upon a new shipwreck. We had some false starts — in wasn’t until the fifth dive that we actually found her. We saw a hard sonar return at a right angle to the sub – and nature doesn’t do sharp right angles so we knew we were on to something. We then crept closer and closer to the wreck and eventually, out of the dark gloom we could see the outlines of, unmistakably, a ship. It is an incredibly electric feeling inside the sub to be right there and to have found the proverbial needle in a haystack.
But then, we also had to be very, very careful because there is live ordnance on the ship – we could eventually see live 40 millimeter rounds in the guns and depth charges still in their racks – and that amplified the tension in the sub.
What’s going to happen to the wreck now?
We will send all of the data we collected including location, video and photos to the US Navy. It is their wreck, after all. I will gladly donate all the results of our search pro bono to organizations that will respectfully tell the story of the ship and her crew.
Do you have any other similar missions in the pipeline?
Yes. There are still a great many famous wrecks to be located all over the world, and I feel very lucky to be able to help find them and retell their stories. It is an oft-repeated saying that what we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. Well, if we can create more chances to tell these compelling historical stories, maybe we can help people learn some of the greater lessons.