Update: Paul Allen passed away on October 15, 2018. The Microsoft co-founder and son of a World War II veteran, Allen supported a research team that spent years searching for shipwrecks associated with the war. His discoveries also include the U.S.S. Lexington and the world’s largest sunken battleship, the Musashi. David Mearns, a marine scientist who worked with Allen, shared the following today in an email to National Geographic: “Paul’s interest in marine exploration and shipwrecks was very personal, which grew in part from his father’s service during WWII. But in pursuing his passion and curiosity he also invited the world to join these exciting explorations through the computers he helped create. His important discoveries and illumination of naval history have ensured that the sacrifice of those who served is not forgotten.”
After decades of fruitless searches, the wreckage of heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis was found on the floor of the Philippine Sea on August 19, 2017.
Searchers located the remains of the ship 5,500 meters (18,044 feet) below the sea, according to billionaire Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who led the expedition. "Important chapter of WWII history concludes," Allen wrote on Twitter. "I hope survivors/families gain some closure."
The Indianapolis sank on July 30, 1945, just 12 minutes after being hit with torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarine. The sinking of the Indianapolis and the ordeal endured by the ship’s survivors is one of the worst naval disasters in American history.
There were nearly 1,200 sailors on board, and about 300 died when the ship went down. Unable to secure life rafts, survivors were left adrift in the shark-infested Philippine Sea. Dehydration, starvation, and salt poisoning were responsible for hundreds more deaths. Oceanic white-tip sharks and tiger sharks also attacked the vulnerable men.
The Navy failed to notice the Indianapolis was overdue at its next port of call; it never dispatched a search party. Only 317 crew survived, rescued after a passing plane spotted them.
Since 1960, the survivors have been meeting for reunions in Indianapolis. At the 70th anniversary of the sinking two years ago, 14 of the 31 remaining survivors gathered. (Read more about the recollections of the warship's last survivors.) “It is still so vivid—I can see it, I can feel it," said Edgar "Ed" Harrell. "It was 70 years ago, but it was just yesterday.”
In the summer of 2016, a Naval historian discovered records pinpointing the ship's location 11 hours before it sank, a breakthrough that helped lead Allen's search in the right direction. Several previous searches, including one led by National Geographic, had failed to find the ship. The historian, Richard Hulver, noted that no distress call from the Indianapolis was ever received, nor was there a record of the ship's sinking location.
In March 2015, Allen's team made a separate discovery of the Musashi, a battleship sunk by American forces during World War II. The discovery was made in Philippine waters at a depth of about 1 kilometer (3,280 feet).
Allen’s crew used the historical data discovered last year, along with remote operated vehicle (ROV) technology, to look for the wreck within a 600-square-mile area of open ocean. The expedition team will conduct a live video tour of the wreckage in the next few weeks, according to the Navy.
“I’m very happy that they found it. It’s been a long 72 years coming,” said a statement released by 93-year-old Indianapolis survivor Arthur Leenerman and reported by USNI News. “I have wished for years that they would find it. The lost at sea families will feel pretty sad but I think finding the ship will also give them some closure.”
Glenn Hodges contributed to this report.
This story was originally published in August 2017.