On March 25, 1921, USS Conestoga departed San Francisco en route to Pearl Harbor, and was never seen again. Until now.
The Conestoga, a 170-foot long steel-hulled seagoing tug boat was built in 1904 and bought by the Navy during World War I to serve as a patrol craft. After the war, the service kept the vessel in commission and reclassified her back to an armed tug. In 1921, she was dispatched to from California to American Samoa, where she was set to be stationed, but when she left for Pearl Harbor on the first leg of her journey she vanished with 56 officers and men aboard.
A massive three-month search turned up only a life ring and an empty lifeboat, and her ultimate fate was known only to the sea. Declared lost, her disappearance was an enduring mystery that was only announced solved this week.
In 2009, a NOAA survey near the Farallon Islands off San Francisco turned up a previously uncharted shipwreck in 189-foot-deep water that was investigated in 2014. By last October, with the help of an archaeologist from the Navy and, the identity was confirmed.
The Navy and NOAA went public with the announcement on Wednesday after spending the last six months tracking down survivors of the lost crewmen and notifying them first.
“After nearly a century of ambiguity and a profound sense of loss, the Conestoga‘s disappearance no longer is a mystery,” said Manson Brown, deputy NOAA administrator. “We hope that this discovery brings the families of its lost crew some measure of closure and we look forward to working with the Navy to protect this historic shipwreck and honor the crew who paid the ultimate price for their service to the country.”
Investigators came to the conclusion that the vessel likely sank in a storm three miles off Southeast Farallon Island just a day after she left port. The orientation of the ship suggests she was trying to make it to the shelter of the islands but was swamped in the gale.
The Conestoga is a military grave protected from salvage by the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, and is part of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
For more information, visit NOAA.