Scientists have taken their first-ever look at the USS Independence aircraft carrier since it was sunk at the bottom of the Pacific, more than 60 –years ago. The Independence dates from the World War II-era, which it survived.
It was then used as a target during atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific in the 1940s before being deliberately sunk in 1951 near San Francisco to assess the efficiency of two new types of torpedo warhead.
In 2015, a survey found that the carrier was resting upright 790 meters underwater off California's Farallon Islands- the findings were particularly impressive, especially since sonar images of the sunken carrier suggested that a fighter plane was still stuck inside.
On 22 August 2016, scientists – including researchers from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – were on board the exploration vessel Nautilus, operated by the Ocean exploration Trust.
From there, they were able to direct robotic subs to examine the wreck of the Independence and to conduct a follow-up on previous surveys.
A plane on the carrier
The images the scientists captured reveal that the aircraft carrier was still surprisingly intact and tried to map it in order to assess the atomic blasts damage. There was also evidence of torpedo holes, from where the torpedoes – which were tested on the carrier before it was sunk – hit.
However, the most important discovery was perhaps the confirmation that an fighter aircraft was still on board, despite historical records stating the contrary. This F6F-5N Hellcat aircraft shows powerful signs of atom bomb damage, in particularly on its wings, although the painted star is still visible.
Despite all the evidence of atomic bomb damage, the researchers believe that the Independence is no longer radioactive. The carrier was steel-hulled and steel has a seven-year half-life. This means that about half of all the radioactive steel should have decayed after seven years. More than 60 years on the risk is thus minimal.