Researchers find wreckage of USS Indianapolis 72 years after it sank

The ship was torpedoed days before the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb.

For the past 72 years, the resting place of the USS Indianapolis was a mystery. 

But now civilian researchers have found wreckage of the ship at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, bringing closure to survivors and families of those who went down with the ship. 

The USS Indianapolis had just completed a secret mission – delivering components of the atomic bomb that would be used on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 – and was headed to the Philippines when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945. 

The ship sank in 12 minutes, which made it "impossible" for the crew to send a distress signal or use life-saving equipment, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a news release.

There were 1,196 sailors and Marines on the ship, with about 800 initially surviving the attack, the release said. But, the survivors spent days in the water suffering exposure, dehydration, drowning and shark attacks. 

By the time rescuers reached the wreckage, only 316 people were still alive. 

The sinking of the USS Indianapolis has been called the largest single disaster at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy, NPR News says

It's not clear how many Minnesotans were on the USS Indianapolis, but media reports show there was at least one survivor from here. Erwin Hensch – the last remaining survivor of the USS Indianapolis from Minnesota – died in October 2013, WCCO reported

'Significant' discovery 

Officials are calling researchers' discovery "significant" because the depth of the water where the ship sunk was at about 18,000 feet. 

The team – Research Vessel Petrel led by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen – found the wreckage on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean, about 5,500 meters below the surface, the researchers said in a news release

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling," Allen said in a statement.

Allen's team will continue surveying the site of the USS Indianapolis, and will conduct a live tour of the wreckage "in the next few weeks," the release says. 

But the ship's exact location will remain a secret because the USS Indianapolis is still property of the U.S. Navy. 

For more information on the USS Indianapolis, click here

More photos of the USS Indianapolis wreckage

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