Mystery solved: US Navy boat found after 95 years

A team of researchers from the U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have found the wreck of a navy fleet tug whose whereabouts have been a mystery for 95 years.

The USS Conestoga (AT 54) was found in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off San Francisco, after the boat disappeared in 1931 with 56 officers and sailors aboard.

On March 25, 1921, Conestoga departed the Golden Gate en route to Tutuila, American Samoa via Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. When Conestoga failed to reach Hawaii by its anticipated arrival date the Navy mounted a massive air and sea search around the Hawaiian Islands, the tug’s destination.

Nearly two months later, on May 17, a merchant vessel found a battered lifeboat with the letter “C” on its bow off the Mexican coast leading to a search there.

For months, the ship’s mysterious disappearance gripped newspapers across the country. Unable to locate the ship or wreckage, the Navy declared Conestoga and its crew lost on June 30, 1921. This was the last U.S. Navy ship to be lost without a trace in peacetime.

In 2009, the NOAA Office of Coast Survey, as part of a hydrographic survey near the Farallon Islands off San Francisco, documented a probable, uncharted shipwreck.

In September 2014, NOAA launched a two year investigation codirected by Delgado and Robert Schwemmer, West Coast regional maritime heritage coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, to document historic shipwrecks in the Greater Farallones sanctuary and nearby Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Finally, in October 2015, NOAA confirmed the identification and location of Conestoga during a mission that included an archaeologist from the Naval History and Heritage Command, as well as several senior Navy officers.

NOAA conducted Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) survey dives to positively identify the ship and determine the cause of its wreck. Based on the location and orientation of the wreck, three miles off Southeast Farallon Island, NOAA and its consultants believe Conestoga sank as officers and the crew attempted to reach a protected cove on the island.

Video from cameras mounted on ROVs show the wreck lying on the seabed and largely intact. Extensive marine growth, primarily white plume anemones, drapes the hull’s exterior while various species of marine life, including wolf eels, ling cod and rockfish, inhabit the site.