More than 75 years after the aircraft carrier USS Hornet sank in a Second World War battle, Paul Allen’s RV Petrel research vessel has uncovered its wreckage three miles under the South Pacific Ocean.
About RV Petrel
The RV Petrel is a 76.45m research vessel owned by the estate of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who died in December 2018. The ship is named after the petrel, a seabird. In 2016, Allen purchased the offshore service vessel (formerly named Seven Petrel) from Subsea 7, a subsea engineering, construction and services company.
The crew of the Petrel continues its missions. “We had the Hornet on our list of WWII warships that we wanted to locate because of its place in history as a capitol carrier that saw many pivotal moments in naval battles,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Vulcan. “Paul Allen was particularly interested in aircraft carriers, so this was a discovery that honors his memory.”
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The USS Hornet was involved in many key events of the war, including launching the famed Doolittle Raid on Tokyo—the first airborne attack on the Japanese home islands after Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into the war. It was also a major part of the Battle of Midway. After a fierce battle off Santa Cruz Island in October 1942, which has been described as one of the more bloody and vicious at-sea battles of the war, the Hornet was attacked by a wave of Japanese dive bombers, torpedo planes and destroyers, hitting the ship with torpedoes.
Located at 5,400m
But now, after years of searching, the wreckage of the Hornet was discovered in late January 2019, by the expedition crew of the research vessel RV Petrel. The Hornet was found 5,400m (about 17,700ft) below the surface, resting on the floor of the South Pacific Ocean. The Petrel made history in 2017 when it discovered the wreck of the USS Indianapolis, which was sunk in 1945 by a Japanese submarine in one of America's worst naval disasters. The Petrel took on the search for the Hornet as part of its mission to investigate scientific phenomena and historical mysteries in the South Pacific. The 250ft research vessel’s previous shipwreck finds include the USS Lexington, the USS Juneau and the USS Helena.
The 10-person expedition team on the 250ft Petrel were able to locate the Hornet’s position by piecing together data from national and naval archives, which included official deck logs and action reports from other ships engaged in the battle. Positions and sightings from nine other US warships in the area were plotted on a chart to generate the starting point for the search grid. In the case of the Hornet, she was discovered on the first dive mission of the Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle and confirmed by video footage from the remotely operated vehicle, both pieces of equipment depth-rated to 6,000m.
Proud to find the ship's remains, the expedition team said the find was an homage to Paul Allen, who passed away in December 2018 from complications related to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. ■