Thursday, June 4, 1998

Associated Press/National Geographic
The USS Yorktown, the WWII aircraft carrier sunk
by enemy torpedoes in the Battle of Midway, is seen for
the first time in 56 years. The wreck was found three miles
below the surface of the Pacific on May 18.

UH team praised
for role in finding
sunken ship

The underwater mapping
team was essential to the
National Geographic project

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- The deep-sea explorer who found the USS Yorktown at the bottom of the Pacific last month told a rapt audience today at the National Geographic Society headquarters and said he couldn't have done it without a University of Hawaii underwater mapping team.

"It was their sonar that enabled us to find it," said Dr. Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic 13 years ago and this year led the expedition to find the Yorktown, the deepest wreckage find ever.

"It was absolutely critical. We couldn't have found it without them."

The World War II aircraft carrier sank June 7, 1942, shortly after playing a pivotal role in the Battle of Midway, generally agreed to be the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

The 23,000-ton ship had led the battle against the superior Japanese Imperial Navy but for 56 years has lain in uncharted waters 17,000 feet deep, about 200 miles north of Midway.

When Ballard organized his expedition, sponsored by the National Geographic, he chose a sonar scanner system operated by the UH, the MR1.

The UH system does not have to be lowered as deeply as other systems, explained Ballard, and can cover an area at least five times as wide.

Bruce Appelgate, director of field operations at UH's Hawaii Mapping Research Group, who led the UH team, said the expedition was a challenge even to MR1's capabilities.

"We were exploring the ragged edge of our resolution," he said. "We feel very fortunate in being able to image the Yorktown."

Despite their success, Appelgate said his team has no other plans to collaborate with Ballard or National Geographic.

Ballard, however, said he has more plans for exploring the ocean near Midway. He said his team was close to locating the USS Hammann, the destroyer sunk by the Japanese while it was trying to save the Yorktown, and perhaps the four Japanese aircraft carriers also sunk at Midway.

As for the Yorktown, it remains in pristine condition on the ocean floor, said Ballard, and he expected it to remain there.

"It would be silly to bring her up," said Ballard, saying it would also be exceedingly difficult and expensive. "She's in Davy Jones' locker now. She's fine, she's safe."

The expedition, which included both American and Japanese survivors of the battle, did lower a plaque onto the carrier commemorating its importance in the battle.

National Geographic and Ballard have declined to even divulge the exact location of the Yorktown, in the hope that it will be forever protected.

He did, however, say he hoped this was the first of many visits to the ship, which he called a key part of U.S. naval history.

National Geographic will air a special on the Yorktown expedition early next year. Two magazines and a book are also planned.

The undersea search for Yorktown was even tougher than finding the Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck, said Ballard, who found the carrier in 16,650 feet of water, a full mile deeper than where the Titanic sank.

"The first thing I saw was a mud clot . . . and a smile crossed my face," Ballard said of his search.

Ballard located the ship a month ago and today's briefing came 56 years to the day after the start of the crucial Battle of Midway in the Pacific Ocean.

Damaged in the earlier battle of the Coral Sea, the Yorktown was sent into combat at Midway in an effort to block the Japanese fleet from capturing that tiny island and moving on to conquer Hawaii.

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