The U.S. Navy found a tug that was lost for nearly a century. The tugboat, identified as USS Conestoga, was the last Navy ship to be lost without a trace in peacetime.
A U.S. Navy tugboat that had been missing since 1921 has been discovered. The boat had been declared missing, but was found sunk off California. The discovery of the tugboat has solved nearly a century-old maritime mystery and offers closure not just to the Navy, but for all those relatives who didn’t have a clue about the whereabouts of the sailors.
— World News Tonight (@WNTonight) March 24, 2016
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Navy released a statement confirming the discovery of the wreck of the USS Conestoga. The wreck was found near one of the Farallones Islands about 30 miles (50 km) west of San Francisco. Modern technology has indicated the boat is largely intact. Speaking about the tugboat discovery, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy NOAA administrator Manson Brown said,
“After nearly a century of ambiguity and a profound sense of loss, the Conestoga’s disappearance no longer is a mystery. We hope that this discovery brings the families of its lost crew some measure of closure and we look forward to working with the Navy to protect this historic shipwreck and honor the crew who paid the ultimate price for their service to the country.”
USS Conestoga, a U.S. Navy tugboat with 56 officers and sailors, was heading from California to the American Samoa. It had set sail from San Francisco on March 25, 1921, when it suddenly disappeared without a trace. The boat simply vanished. Even after massive joint air and sea rescue operations, neither the tugboat nor any signs indicating its whereabouts were found, reported Fox News. Newspapers across the United States as well as the citizens were gripped with concern, and numerous theories about the tugboat’s disappearance were suggested.
However, even after extensive searches, USS Conestoga wasn’t found. The Navy officially declared the tugboat missing in June 1921. The tugboat was the last Navy ship to be lost without a trace during peacetime.
— NOAA (@NOAA) March 23, 2016
How did the tugboat disappear? Investigations into the wreck had begun in 2014 and culminated in 2015. During the investigation, weather logs of the time when the tugboat left shore were studied. It became apparent that the weather wasn’t ideal. By the time the boat departed, the wind in San Francisco’s Golden Gate area had risen to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour), reported Yahoo.
The seas were rough with high waves, added the statement. As if this wasn’t a conclusive reason for the tugboat’s disappearance, a rather incoherent radio message from Conestoga noted that the ship was “battling a storm and that the barge she was towing had been torn adrift by heavy seas.”
— Sanctuaries (NOAA) (@sanctuaries) March 23, 2016
It is now believed that the tugboat may have sunk while its sailors attempted to maneuver it into a protected cove on Southeast Farallon Island, revealed NOAA’s report on the Conestoga discovery,
“This would have been a desperate act, as the approach is difficult and the area was the setting for five shipwrecks between 1858 and 1907. However, as Conestoga was in trouble and filling with water, it seemingly was the only choice to make.”
Interestingly, the wreck of the tugboat was spotted way back in 2009. As part of a hydrographic survey near the Farallon Islands off San Francisco, NOAA officials had detected a shipwreck. They had chalked it up as “unidentified.” It took another five years for the wreck to be confirmed as the sunken USS Conestoga.
The tugboat was initially commissioned to drag heavy coal barges for the railroad. However, the U.S. Navy purchased it in 1917. The tugboat offered its valuable service during World War I.
[Photo by Borut Furlan/Getty Images]