Researchers discover 95-year-old Navy shipwreck outside Golden Gate

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Friday will be the 95th anniversary of a shipwreck that was once shrouded in mystery. Federal researchers announced they've found the answers right outside the Golden Gate.

It started when scientists were mapping the ocean floor and found something -- a big tugboat, 170 feet long, clearly made for the open ocean.

It didn't match any civilian records but historians found this: "A Navy ship called Conestoga that had gone missing with a crew of 56," NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries' Robert Schwemmer said.

By all accounts, the Conestoga had vanished off Hawaii, but what if it never made it that far?

This wreck was near the Farallon Islands, just outside the Golden Gate.

Researchers returned with an underwater robot for a closer look. "We identified a 3-inch, 50 caliber naval gun. In the photographs at San Diego, we have the gunnery crew standing next to that same gun, so it was our smoking gun," Schwemmer said.

The Conestoga looked a lot like another tugboat, the Hercules. That's now permanently docked here in San Francisco Bay.

In fact, researchers used this boat to help identify what they found on the ocean floor.

"These ships, like our Hercules at the park, are very narrow. These tugs, and they roll," SF Maritime National Historical Park Curator Richard Everett said.

Researchers now believe the Conestoga sank in the severe weather that area's known for.

"Winds over 100 mph, currents, many many knots," Everett said.

It was a frightful way to die for the 56 sailors on board. The research team held a memorial on the water and another on land for the men's families.

The shipwreck is now a gravesite but it's more than that. It's been taken over by the colorful creatures of the deep ocean - fish, eels, even a giant octopus.

"It's a beautiful reef, and in the face of death there's new life," Schwemmer said.
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