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Robert Ballard  







Underwater archaeology; PT-109  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
24 May 2002

  • Solomon Islands
  • Near Gizo; Aboard ship
  • -8.11214   156.905488
  • Mono
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
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  • 16-bit
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  • Two-Track Mono; Electrovoice RE50 Dynamic Omni Microphone

Show: Ballard PT 109
Log of DAT #: 14 (Ballard Finale only)
Engineer: Neal Conan
Date: May 24, 2002

BB = Bob Ballard
Dw = Dwight Coleman
NC = Neal Conan

27:44 Track 3 Begins

27:53 BB
There's the Tokyo express, there's where the collision occurred, based up on all the sights, there's approximately Where Kennedy left the floating bow to swim, and there is where we are.

the current..?

Brought it down this way, and it was sighted, and then it was no longer seen, and then something else appeared and it turned out to be Japanese, they went in/on to the reef and they actually took rifles out of it. Now if some other pt boat somewhere else on the planet had the miraculous ability to land in the same spot - perhaps they're on top of one another - but there you are.

sir, will you be releasing that map to the public?

at the behest, you know, you're going to have to ask n.g.

I don't think that belongs to anybody else but¿ and there's the tube, the sonar target, and there's the reality. So¿ I don't know.. I'm sorta happy with it.

I was thinking last night, the search box for Yorktown was 350 miles, and a target of 30000¿ a huge target!

yeah, and we ran over it on the first run, but we had a lot more information. The Yorktown was surrounded by destroyer escorts. When the japs torpedoed it¿ and I had all those logbooks from the destroyers, and it really narrowed it. the biggest problem I had was the Samuel Morison's analysis put it so far away. The reason I had such a large search area was it was hard to ignore Samuel Morrison, and the navy war college did an analysis and both of them put it so far away from our analysis. So this is why I had this area and that area, and that's what made it a big area. Their position was so vastly different than ours.

but given the search area and the size of the target this is two orders of magnitude more difficult

yes, I mean, and also nothing gets buried of 17000 feet of water - there's no current. The culprit here - and there is a number of culprits - the major culprit is the current. You're bottom is changing dramatically. Things are getting buried - that's not normal in the deep sea. Titanic plowed in but it created it's own pile¿ the Yorktown - I mean the Bismarck, created an avalanche and slid down. But that was all self-imposed stuff¿. And the Yorktown went smack dab right into the bottom, but it was a flat bottom. None of them were affected subsequently by currents. Now our Phoenician ships were in aoeron because they were in the same water depth - a couple thousand feet of water. The culprit here is the strong strong current coming through this narrow passage way and the venturi affect. And that buries things, and that's unusual - that's not my kind of normal world, and that's what I had to deal with here. That, plus the boat's very small, at best, 40some feet, and that it was wood and it could have been diminished so you're now down to the main pieces of metal, which the biggest pieces are torpedo tubes - so it's not surprising that's what we found, was the torp tubes, because they're the largest objects that had a chance of surviving. But still, it was a needle, because another thing that we didn't have in the other searches is you didn't have a 1000 foot wall throwing off big blocks of coral. You didn't' have a big volcano that erupts and throws all sorts of pyroclastics. So.. you didn't have any other areas a lot of false targets. Here we had 100s of them. We are just fortunate that the bow ended up in a benign part of the search area, which was at best about 25% of the search area. .. it would be what you call benign, and it fortunately ended up in that. Had it ended up in the other 75%, we wouldn't' be smiling, we would be going home without success. So.. a number of things that worked for us, but mostly the fact that it landed in a benign area, and we could see it.

Would you say that technically this was as difficult, more difficult?

no, I mean they're' all difficult, they all present different nightmares. I would say given that it was where it was, and given that it was detectable, it wasn't that hard, compared to the Bismarck or the titanic which the search area was much vaster.. And we saw that target on the 2nd day, which was pretty good. We didn't get to it right away, but we saw the target on the 2nd day and so it was seen pretty early. The question was sorting it out among all the other targets. The pivotal point was when we gave up trying to find the stern. I mean, that was our initial primary objective. We thought we could narrow that information the most. And then we got up there there were 500 of them¿ we had to give up. And when we gave up we said this is hopeless.. I guess we could go thorough the motions and use the ship time, and ¿ but this is hopeless. We shifted our attention towards the bow, and when we did the analysis.. Which hadn't really been in our thinking¿ then it sorta ' hey, it oughtta be over here' and when we saw it was a benign area and a gorgeous target, it had to be it! and it was¿

and as it turned out, the bow still had a lot of the hull attached..?

well I mean.. What were seeing the crankout.. what the historians call the crankout.. We're seeing next to the torpedo the mechanism used to crank the torpedo. It's very unlikely that it could be dropped separately from the torp tube and land in the same place, so their juxt. Suggest they arrive that way. Also what we're seeing underneath them is these mahogany blocks. If you look at the model, you'll see beneath the torp launchers, there are these big mahog. Blocks bolted to the deck. So, that, plus the fact when we tried to move the haulout mech, it didn't budge at all, not a frac. Of an inch. So all of that says that it's attached. Plus, another important factor if you look at our sonar record, our sonar record is seeing much more than our eyes are seeing. We are seeing into the bottom. If you go look at this record right here, that is far bigger than a single torpedo tube. You're seeing other structure. . It's not unusual for a sonar to penetrate. It's quite common for sonar to penetrate to limited distances. So I think we're seeing the hull in the sonar record. So, and I'm not surprised. And there it is¿ it's a rectangle - it's not a tube. That's a tube, that's a tube, that's a tube, but that is a rectangle. Look at these little pieces coming off this way, I think you're seeing into the bottom which is called sub*** profiling, and we have that capability

So critical to this was the validation of the theory that a bit of it was sliced off, that it wasn't cut in half¿

well I think even if it was cut in half, this piece could still be just half. I think what aided me was that little sliver .. the worst case scenario could be that not only was I in an area that was hopeless¿ the signature was even more hopeless.. it was sorta one awful thing on top of another. It caused me to say 'I'm going to make a gamble and abandon that area' and we got lucky, because it was there, and it was detectable.

when was that point when you switched from the stern to the bow?

oh about the fourth day In, I've got it in my logbook.. my daily diary..when I said 'let's forget this, I'm outta here,' I'll have to look it up in my diary but I have it in there. But it was about the fourth day. When we decided to go look at this. It was the day we went and saw it. it was hours before, because as soon as we abandoned that strategy¿ and then turned to finding the bow.. we then looked at the record and within minutes we could see that target and within minutes we said 'let's go get it.'

did you deliberate for a while or did you make a really snap decision?

absolutely a snap decision¿ I mean but.. lemme show you FX - papers shuffling how easy it was to make a snap decision¿ chuckles .. now that's easy. Now magnify this - you don't see all the records, magnify this to this big a piece of blank paper. Look at the bull's-eye on it! so it wasn't a difficult snap decision because there was only one area where the bow could have sunk. Because once you started to look at this analysis of 'here is the took express, here is where they said the collision goes, here's this, here's that,' and then you look down there and as you'll notice there are only three targets down there. That's the destroyer, that's this guy, and that's some insignificant little nubbet. So.. it was pretty easy. I'll claim it was hard

what do you imagine remains of the stern based on what you've seen of the bow?

oh it could be a big piece. I don't think we can dismiss that 40% of it went down . I don't' think we can dismiss that, because I'm not seeing 60% of a ship here. I'm seeing a big piece, but I'm not saying 60% The question is, is the reason I'm not seeing this is that it was eaten by wood bores and it's gone.. we're here in the heart of the ship we're in the engine room and we're seeing buried metal and not buried wood. Because remember that this probably didn't go into the bottom on impact, that's a very course grain sand we're looking at. It was not mud, it was very course grain.. so it's very hard, very compacted

40:19FX - clapping
when it hit, it did not penetrate like the other ships in the deep sea when you're going into oozes when you're going into very fine grain clay. This is a course grain sand, coral sand, and so it hit and sat there and it was then exposed to wood bores. So it was conceivable that there was a race between the wood bores eating it and the sand covering it. but we also know that in sand, because it's course grain, there's more oxygen at a greater depth. Muds go anti-oxy pretty quick. But in the course grain sands you can get¿ wood bores that can actually eat deeper because they have oxygen.

would the sand have any preservative qualities?

no.. counter. No fine grain¿ a) the softer is and the deeper it penetrates on impact, and then the fact that it's in oxy very very quickly because of the fine grains. Here you have such a strong current and you're turning the bottom over, okay? You're aerating it.. sort of like the way¿ worms aerate your lawn, you're aerating it by turning it over and so the eating depth is a lot deeper.. at any one time. You look at the surface and say 'what's the eating depth' you say 'what's the height of the sand waves?' you could see that the height of the sand waves were 5-6 feet tall, whereas in the deep sea its like an inch. I'd say from the standpoint of the wood bores, this is a much friendlier environment than the deep sea, as far as penetration.

you had a historian here who obviously had studied all this stuff, but you also had cap. Keresey

yeah, that was nice to have a skipper. Being a naval officer myself for 30 years it was an honor to have him on the trip. Clearly he had gone in harms way and I have always respected that and he had performed admirably, so it was nice to have him.

and he had no doubts

well he had.. yes, he had the least doubts from the very beginning, which you know, historians and experts are supposed to be skeptics.. and at first dale was skeptical. But then as the data started pouring in and the imagery started pouring in the more you look the more you see, and in this case the more you want to see, you're actually seeing it you 're seeing dimensions and ¿. Dale wasn't initially convinced until the 2nd imaging runs when we really got really good images, and then he went way past the skipper! He leapfrogged over him .. and my job you cannot have a vested interest in the answer. As much as you wan it to be, if you're a scientist, you're taught to never have a vested interest in the answer, it is what it is. And I'll rely upon these experts to tell me, I wouldn't know. Any more than you would know looking at the same sort of information I wouldn't know the difference between an American torpedo from a Japanese torpedo. I do know the diff between a quad launcher and a single launcher¿ because those dest. That's nearby you'd say 'did something fall off as he was sinking? He's not that far away?' well his quads. That's not a quad. Plus¿ evidently from dale he knows the difference between jap and usa tech. That's why he's along.

do you have any desire to come back with your excavating equipment.

no, I'm actually content to leave it buried. I think it's a grave and I think it's a propos. I ¿.no¿ I'm happy with it just the way it is. Showing us enough to know that, but burying the rest. Yeah, that's fine¿ yeah¿

end of interview

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