Can you walk for four miles? Can you swim for four miles? Those two activities are achievable by many people. However, swimming that same four miles VERTICALLY is impossible due to the tremendous pressure of the ocean. That same pressure does not seem to have an effect on shipwrecks, as proven this week in the Philippine Sea when the wreck of the USS Samuel B Roberts was found at a depth of 22,621 feet (4.2 miles or 6,895 meters) – a new world record for the deepest shipwreck ever found. The historic ship was discovered and visited (in a special submarine) by Victor Vescovo, who holds a number of other diving records and has also traveled in the opposite direction as a space tourist on a Blue Origin suborbital flight. Oceans cover 70 percent of the surface of the Earth. How did Vescovo manage to find the USS Samuel B Roberts?
(Note: Photo above is not the USS Samuel B Roberts.)
“I don't want to use the phrase 'needle in a haystack', because there's a lot more research that goes into making that haystack smaller. But there's still a certain amount of luck involved in all this."
Victor Vescovo knows a bit about both luck and research. In addition to his 20 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer, Vesco made a fortune as a co-founder and managing partner of private equity company Insight Equity Holdings. He has since sunk (no pun intended) a sizeable potion of that fortune into exploring the depths of the world’s oceans as the founder of the exploration company Caladan Oceanic. In 2018, Vescovo launched the Five Deeps Expedition and embarked on diving to the deepest spots in all five oceans as pilot of the DSV Limiting Factor, a submersible designed and built by Triton Submarines. By September 2019, he had set records for the first crewed submersible to reach the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean (the Brownson Deep – 5.2 miles), the southern portion of the South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean, the bottom of the Sunda Trench in the Indian Ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench (a world record at 35,853 feet (10.928 km, also becoming the first human to visit that depth twice) and the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean., becoming the first human to reach this spot as well. That expedition also took Vescovo to the Horizon Deep, the Sirena Deep, and the Diamantina Fracture Zone. Now THAT is “making the haystack smaller.”
“I think that having a ship vanish into the depths, never to be seen again, can leave those affiliated with the ship feeling a sense of emptiness. Finding the wrecks can help bring closure, and also bring details about the battle that perhaps we didn't know before. As we say, 'Steel doesn't lie."
Vescovo told CNN why he looks for shipwrecks, and the USS Samuel B. Roberts was a ship that needed and deserved closure. USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) was a John C. Butler-class destroyer escort named after Coxswain Samuel Booker Roberts, Jr., who was killed when he heroically steered a Higgins boat (a landing craft) towards enemy forces at the Battle of Guadalcanal to divert fire from other vessels. Launched on January 20, 1944, on October 25, 1944, the ship (nicknamed the Sammy B.) was protecting escort carriers whose aircraft were supporting the Army assault in the Battle of Samar when a 23-ship Japanese task force attacked. The ship fired most of its weaponry before being hit twice, forcing the crew to abandon ship with 90 casualties and 120 survivors who were later rescued.
"The Sammy B is a small vessel as military ships go, and we weren't really sure that we could find her in the vast and extremely deep ocean where she went down. But with perseverance, some great historical analysis, and a whole lot of deep ocean technology and hard work, we were able to find her and provide a great opportunity to tell her amazing story."
In mid-June 2022, Vescovo and a team from EYOS Expeditions made six dives over eight days in a search for the USS Samuel B. Roberts and the USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73). Using a custom-built sidescan solar system, the team located a three-tube torpedo launcher which was a sign they were close to the Sammy B. since it was the only one of the ships to have such a weapon. Then, on June 22, Vescovo found what he was searching for.
“With sonar specialist Jeremie Morizet, I piloted the submersible Limiting Factor to the wreck of the Samuel B. Roberts (DE 413). Resting at 6,895 meters, it is now the deepest shipwreck ever located and surveyed. It was indeed the "destroyer escort that fought like a battleship."”
In his report, Vescovo noted that it appeared the bow of the Sammy B. hit the seafloor with enough force to buckle it and it lost about 16 feet (5 meters) of its bow, but the rest of the wreck was in fantastic shape for having fought hard in the Battle of Samar, been damaged and sunk, and traveled 4.3 miles down before slamming into the bottom of the ocean. (Photos of the wreck can be viewed here.) Her stern also separated about 5 meters on impact, but the whole wreck was together. That suggests other ships sunk in that battle may be on the ocean floor nearby. In fact, Vescovo continued searching, reaching a depth of over 4.35 miles (7,000 meters) in hopes of finding the USS Gambier Bay or the USS Hoel, but those boats remain lost for another expedition.
The discovery of the USS Samuel B. Roberts broke the record for the deepest shipwreck every found – a record held by none other than … Victor Vescovo. On May 25, 2019, he and his crew found the wreck of the USS Johnston at a depth of 4.02 miles (6,468.9 meter) in the Emden Deep in the Philippine Trench, where it sank on October 25, 1944, during the ... you guessed it … Battle of Samar. Before that, the record was held by the SS Rio Grande, found on November 30, 1996, at 5,762 meters (3.58 miles) off the coast of Brazil in the Atlantic where the German blockade runner was sunk by two US destroyers in January 1944.
The search for the deepest shipwreck is far from over. The Deep Ocean Search sidescan sonar has been tested up to 6.83 miles (11,000 meters) – that’s full ocean depth. The Caladan Oceanic team and the EYOS group plan to take it to that depth as they move on to Guam in the western Pacific Ocean and look for more deep wrecks.