'Deepest wreck dive' reaches US WWII ship off Philippines

Manila, Philippines: A US navy destroyer sunk during World War II and lying nearly 6,500 meters below sea level off the Philippines has been reached in the world's deepest shipwreck dive, an American exploration team said.

A crewed submersible filmed, photographed, and surveyed the wreckage of the USS Johnston off Samar Island during two eight-hour dives completed late last month, Texas-based undersea technology company Caladan Oceanic said.

The 115-meter-long ship was sunk on October 25, 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf as US forces fought to liberate the Philippines -- then a US colony -- from Japanese occupation.

Its location in the Philippine Sea was discovered in 2019 by another expedition group, but most of the wreckage was beyond the reach of their remotely-operated vehicle.

"Just completed the deepest wreck dive in history, to find the main wreckage of the destroyer USS Johnston," tweeted Caladan Oceanic founder Victor Vescovo, who piloted the submersible.

"We located the front 2/3 of the ship, upright and intact, at a depth of 6456 meters. Three of us across two dives surveyed the vessel and gave respects to her brave crew."

Only 141 of the ship's 327 crew survived, according to US Navy records.

The Caladan Oceanic-backed expedition found the bow, bridge, and mid-section intact with the hull number "557" still visible.

Two full five-inch gun turrets, twin torpedo racks, and multiple gun mounts remain in place, it said.

Team navigator and historian Parks Stephenson said the wreck bore the damage inflicted during the intense surface battle 76 years ago.

"It took fire from the largest warship ever constructed -- the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato, and ferociously fought back," said Stephenson.

Sonar data, imagery, and field notes collected during the dives would be turned over to the US Navy, Vescovo said.

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