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Transcript: Bob Ballard Press Conference on Finding the Yorktown

Dr. Robert D. Ballard: Good morning. Really, to set the stage, just to give you a sense of history: In 20 minutes, the Japanese strike force on Midway takes off from the carriers 56 years ago today. So if you convert the seven-hour time difference, the sun is just about to rise over the island of Midway, and they’re in for quite a pounding that day. But before I go into the expedition, I too want to introduce some critical players that were essential to this year’s program. Many of the team members that were on the expedition are here today.

As you know, National Geographic sent almost every department on this expedition. This was a coordinated attack on the Battle of Midway, and we have with us various players. The producers for this project: Brian Breger (Is that how I pronounce it, Brian?) is here from Partisan Pictures and works with Peter Schnall, and they worked together with me in the past, even though I told my wife the hardest part of this presentation was going to be getting everyone’s names right. We have produced several programs with them: the Lusitania expedition, the Bismarck expedition, last summer’s expedition on the great discoveries of the Roman shipwrecks. So we’re looking forward to another magic. Now that we’ve done our part, we’re turning it over to them, and they go into postproduction for the creation of a two-hour special that will be synchronized with the magazine’s two articles, one written by Tom Allen (I got that name right, didn’t I, Tom?) and the other one written by myself, and I won’t even try my name.

Also in the room is a key player on the scientific team, part of the intellect that went into this expedition, a colleague of mine from MIT in the department of history of technology, Dave Mindell. Dave has been with me on many of our expeditions and was a critical player as we tried to figure out how to make this whole thing happen. An essential player was the University of Hawaii. And with us today is Dr. Bruce Appelgate, and Bruce has brought his system, the MR-1, which was a gamble. It was quite a gamble, because I have never used this system before, and Bruce had never used it to look for—as he told Peter in the interview, he says he’s used to looking for haystacks in the ocean, he’s not used to looking for needles inside the haystack, which is what we had to do.

Also with us, from the Naval Historical Center [is] Chuck Haberlein. Chuck played an essential role in providing the historical database that we needed so much to pin down where the Yorktown was and to sort of agonize over the various databases that we had to deal with, both the U.S. and Japanese databases. From the magazine on the first expedition, Mark Thiessen. Mark did some beautiful photography, and you’ll see some of that in the press kit. Keith Moorehead—Keith are you here? Keith Moorehead handled all the technical sides of the imagery, producing. We took over one thousand beautiful color images of the Yorktown, and I’ll be showing all of them today. No, not really [laughs].

Let’s see, did I get it? And then as the admiral mentioned, and as Tim mentioned, a really critical part of the Midway project was to do this story while many of the veterans who participated in that campaign are still alive. With us today, one of the veterans of the Yorktown, Bill Surgi, who was really helpful to us as we explored his ship. It was nice to have someone aboard. I can remember when NPR [National Public Radio] radio asked me did I know it was the Yorktown? Well, other than seeing the name on the stern, which was sort of a dead giveaway, it was very nice to have Bill there, giving us a blow by blow, rivet by rivet, along with Chuck’s. So it was wonderful to have that team of experts on the program. I think I got everybody, as Tim already did. Standing back, not only with the Military Sea Lift Command and the support out of San Diego, we had a lot of logistics games to play, as I’ll be talking about in a few minutes.

When we blew up the front of the vehicle—it’s not a good thing to do in the middle of nowhere, and we really had to scramble to survive that great catastrophic implosion early in the game. Also essential was my wife, Barbara, who is President of Odyssey Expeditions, and she scrambled to get the replacement of glass balls to titanium spheres, and that was done in the eleventh hour on the only flight, the final flight that could get to us in the final moments to get the images. And that was—she played a critical role in that.

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