The Hunt for the USS Hornet

One of the most important aircraft carriers in WWII history has been located thanks to efforts from the crew of Paul Allen’s R/V Petrel. The discovery of the USS Hornet was made during Petrel’s first mission of 2019.

The Hornet played a pivotal role in some of the most important moments in WWII naval history, including the Doolittle Raid and the Battle of Midway. From the deck of the Hornet, U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Doolittle led the first air-borne attack on Japanese homeland targets, including Tokyo. The aircraft carrier was sunk during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands after a relentless coordinated attack by Japanese dive-bombers and torpedo planes, and eventually, torpedoes from two Japanese destroyers. She lost a 140 sailors from her crew of nearly 2,200.

5-inch-gun-1-768x432 5 inch guns of the USS Hornet

Damage-on-hull-768x432 Damage to the Hornet’s hull.

International-Harvester-aircraft-tug-768x432 International Harvester aircraft tug sitting upright.

Wreckage of the USS Hornet was discovered in late January 2019, 5,330 meters (nearly 17,500 feet) below the surface, resting on the floor of the South Pacific Ocean. You can watch the hunt for the Hornet in this two part special on CBS.


The crew of the Petrel continues its missions “We had the Hornet on our list of WWII warships that we wanted to locate because of its place in history as a capitol carrier that saw many pivotal moments in naval battles,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Vulcan. “Paul Allen was particularly interested in aircraft carriers so this was a discovery that honors his memory.”

Petrel-Online-Room-768x512 Exploring the wreck where it rests 5,000 m below the surface

The 10-person expedition team on the 250-foot R/V Petrel were able to locate the Hornet’s position by piecing together data from national and naval archives that included official deck logs and action reports from other ships engaged in the battle. Positions and sightings from nine other U.S. warships in the area were plotted on a chart to generate the starting point for the search grid. In the case of the Hornet, she was discovered on the first dive mission of the Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle and confirmed by video footage from the remotely operated vehicle, both pieces of equipment rated to dive down to 6,000 meters.

You can dive deeper into R/V Petrel’s discoveries and projects here.