The Deepest Frontier

Dive into Paul G. Allen's undersea explorations and discoveries

I have the unique honor of leading Paul Allen's multi-disciplined team of researchers, engineers, and explorers searching for lost artifacts. They are dedicated to the work; as it takes time, patience and technology to search the deepest parts of the ocean for lost ships. The opportunity to be the first to uncover these pieces of history is thrilling, but more importantly, our missions are deeply rooted in Paul Allen's dedication to preserving our past, honoring those who were lost and sharing what he finds with the world.

By outfitting his personal yacht M/Y Octopus to double as a floating research vessel, we are able to take his love of ocean exploration deeper than most. Octopus is home to Pagoo, an eight-person submarine that gives its passengers the ability to dive up to eight hours. For deeper explorations, Octopus also has a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that the crew has aptly dubbed "Octo ROV". The ROV can descend to three thousand meters and is equipped with an HD video camera to capture underwater footage that is often donated for use in documentary films.

In addition to Octopus, Allen recently added a dedicated research vessel to his fleet. The R/V Petrel is an underwater research and exploration vessel used specifically to locate historically significant shipwrecks and explore underwater ecosystems. From Petrel, we are able to search the ocean floor with two onboard robots, the (autonomous underwater vehicle) AUV: Hydroid and ROV: Argus BXL.

On Octopus and Petrel, our team was able to accomplish some of Paul Allen's greatest ocean expeditions.

USS Indianapolis

USS Indianapolis underwater tour, August 2017.

USS Indianapolis underwater tour, August 2017.

Our team discovered wreckage from the USS Indianapolis on Aug. 19 resting 5,500m below the surface of the North Pacific Ocean in the Philippine Sea. The AUV scans detected objects in stark contrast to the surrounding geology which indicated possible man-made objects.

We then sent the ROV down to investigate the targets detected and upon reaching the debris, the sonar images revealed an object inconsistent with the seabed. The ROV moved closer for its first look at what turned out to be the bow of the Indianapolis. First, the ROV panned across a faded star on the anchor windlass which, according to records, had been added to the vessel just weeks before the ship was sunk. 

Upon encountering the anchor, we could still see "Navy Yard, Norfolk" emblazoned on the bottom. At this point, we were fairly confident we had located the Indianapolis. However, when we moved the ROV up the bow and the light panned across the "35", we knew we had positive confirmation. It is incredible to see that very same "35" on the historic images of the Indianapolis. 

As the naval flagship of the Fifth Fleet, the sunken Indianapolis was the object of many previous search efforts. The R/V Petrel and its capabilities, the technology it has and the research we’ve done, were the culmination of years of dedication and hard work. Mr. Allen assembled and integrated this technology, assets and unique capability into an operating platform which is now one among very few on the planet.

“To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role during World War II is truly humbling,” Mr. Allen said. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances. While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming.”
Paul G. Allen

A contributing clue to the discovery was information that surfaced in 2016 by Dr. Richard Hulver, historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command, which confirmed the ship's position at the time of the sighting was consistent with their sailing orders from Guam. 

The Indianapolis was tragically lost in the final days of World War II when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the early morning hours of July 30, 1945. The Indianapolis sank in 12 minutes, making it impossible to deploy much of its life-saving equipment. Prior to the attack, the Indianapolis had just completed its secret mission of delivering components of one of the two nuclear weapons that were dropped on Japan. Of the 1,196 sailors and Marines on board, only 316 survived. 

Due to the scattered nature of the Indianapolis's remains, we continue to explore the area in order to gather the full picture of the debris field. The USS Indianapolis remains the property of the U.S. Navy and its location will remain confidential and restricted by the Navy. We have collaborated with Navy authorities throughout its search operations, as well as survivors groups, and will continue to work on plans to honor the 19 crew members still alive today, as well as the families of all those who served on the highly decorated cruiser.

IJN Musashi

IJN Musashi underwater tour, March 2015.

Stream from the wreck of the Musashi

On March 2, 2015, after eight years of searching and 70 years following its sinking, our team onboard the Octopus located the Japanese battleship Musashi. 

Musashi was one of the largest and most technologically advanced battleships in naval history, and in the history of missing ships there were few greater mysteries at sea. With a crew of 2,000, the 73,000-ton ship, as long as the Space Needle flipped on side, sank in front of the American and Japanese fleets. Yet for seven decades the wreck's resting place remained hidden under the sea. 

Using historical records from four different countries, detailed topographical data and an (AUV) scanning 20 square miles at a time,the massive debris field of the Musashi was finally located off the Philippine coast in the Sibuyan Sea. We live-streamed video of the wreck directly from the bottom of the sea to more than a million people around the world. 

While the story of the Musashi made a huge splash, many people aren't aware that it isn't Mr. Allen's first important maritime discovery. In fact, weeks before locating the Musashi, six previously missing wrecks were positively identified in the Iron Bottom Sound--the site of the Battle of Guadalcanal--including USS Astoria, USS Vincennes, USS Quincy, USS Northampton, USS Atlanta and even the Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Canberra. 

Before our visit with the technology aboard Octopus, only 13 of the estimated 50 ships that sank during the Battle of Guadalcanal had been located in the Iron Bottom Sound. The Octopus mapped every wreck and feature in the area, a vital contribution to the continued identification of these lost ships. Eleven wrecks were tentatively confirmed based on locations and historical records, while 12 others need further investigation to classify their identity. 

The list of discoveries and explorations Mr. Allen and my team have embarked upon goes beyond World War II ships. It includes dozens of downed aircraft, a steamboat from the 1800’s and even an ancient merchant ship. Through a collaboration with France’s Department of Underwater Archaeological Research (DRASSM), a 2,000-year-old ship was discovered in the seas off Corsica. Although not much is known about the origins of this ship, its cargo of hundreds of amphorae, long-necked ceramic jars, spilling out of its rotted wooden hull shed a little light on its story. It was incredible to observe artifacts from 2,000 years ago, frozen in time at the bottom of the sea.

Artigliere, Roma, and Ark Royale

Exploring wrecks from WWII's European theater

The Ark Royal

Octopus' first significant ocean expedition in 2004 centered on the HMS Ark Royal, which at the time of its sinking was considered to be one of the most modern aircraft carriers in the navy. The Ark Royal went down in history because it was from her deck that the Swordfish aircraft tracked down and sank the famous German battleship, Bismarck.

The Ark Royal was sunk in 1941 by a Nazi U-boat off the Strait of Gibraltar, and her discovery and survey was a particularly unique experience for myself and the crew. When Octo ROV's lights first caught a glimpse of Ark Royal resting in the sediment, the many people watching along with my team included those who had fought on her, veterans from Her Majesty's Royal Navy. They were the men who had worked on the hangar decks, in the boiler rooms and manned anti-aircraft guns as she was attacked. They knew the ship inside and out and their view of the thousand meter dive to the bottom of the sea was a trip back in time. 

The Roma

While not as famous as either the Ark Royal or the Hood, the Italian battleship Roma has its own interesting story. Commissioned in 1942, she was one of the most formidable battleships of the Italian Royal Navy, but due to fuel shortage at the time, the Roma was mainly used to protect Italian ports from Allied attacks. In 1943 when the Italy announced its surrender, the Roma sailed to turn itself over to the Allies but was intercepted by Nazi aircraft off Sardinia. Rather than give the important ship to the enemy, the Nazis sunk the Roma, killing 1,350 men. My team explored the ship's remains on May 28, 2014.

The Artigliere

In March 2017, Allen and the team on R/V Petrel located the wreck of Italian naval ship Artigliere along the Siciliy-Malta Escarpment during and expedition in the Mediterranean Sea. The Soldati-class destroyer was sunk in October 1940 after sustaining damage during the Battle of Cape Passero. The Italian government was notified and video of the destroyer was captured at 3,600m below the surface, however out of deference to its crew and surviving family members its location was left private and undisturbed. 

The Musashi, The Ark Royal, The Hood, The Roma and The Artigliere represent Allen's searches for impressive and historically significant World War II-era ships. Each expedition had its own mission, but what remained consistent was that all sought to honor those lost, and knit together the narrative of a generation defined by bravery, loss and sacrifice.

The Hood Bell

Raising the Hood's bell, August 2015.

Raising the Hood's bell, August 2015.

If Ark Royal was made famous for her attack on the Bismarck, it was Bismarck’s greatest victory that leads us to another of our most important expeditions; the exploration of the HMS Hood and retrieval and return of its historic bell to the United Kingdom. 

Known as "The Mighty Hood", the HMS Hood was the pride of the Royal Navy, a symbol of the Britain’s naval supremacy throughout the world. When the battlecruiser was sunk by the Bismarck in the North Atlantic in May of 1941, only three of her crew of 1,418 survived. The defeat shook the United Kingdom to its core. Winston Churchill responded with his now famous, “sink the Bismarck” command, and launched an all-out search to not only seek revenge, but restore the nation's morale in the heat of wartime. 

For Mr. Allen and my team, the Hood expedition was focused on memorializing those who were lost. Alongside members of the Royal Navy, in 2012 we deployed Octo ROV on a mission to raise the ship's bell so it could be restored and displayed in the Navy's National Museum as a permanent memorial. The mission looked simple on paper: like an arcade crane game, our crew fitted the ROV's arm with a hook to drop down and pull the bell up. However, the unpredictable weather of the North Atlantic, coupled with heavy underwater currents jostled the ROV, forcing us to abort its first attempt. Upon leaving, Allen and my crew pledged to stand ready to help the Royal Navy try to raise the Hood’s bell again one day. 

In 2015, we returned to the Denmark Straits to retrieve the Hood Bell with a new state-of-the-art ROV. This mission was successful, and the bell was pulled from the murky depths. After nine months of painstaking restoration, Princess Anne struck eight bells in a ceremony at The National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard as the descendants of the 1,415 sailors looked on.

“There is no headstone among the flowers for those who perish at sea. For the 1,415 officers and men who lost their lives in HMS Hood on 24 May 1941, the recovery of her bell and its subsequent place of honour in The National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth will mean that future generations will be able to gaze upon her bell and remember with gratitude and thanks the heroism, courage and personal sacrifice of Hood’s ship’s company who died in the service of their country.” 
-Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks

The crew of the Octopus lays a flag to rest near the remains of the HMS Hood to honor those lost at sea.

The crew of the Octopus lays a flag to rest near the remains of the HMS Hood to honor those lost at sea.

Scientific Explorations

My work with Mr. Allen supports our efforts to explore, research and see first-hand what few humans have ever seen, and share what he discovers with the world. Beyond preserving history, Mr. Allen is also on a quest to understand the scientific mysteries that live in the ocean's depths. 

In 2011, Allen and his sister Jody teamed up with marine biologist Hans Fricke to unravel the mystery of the coelacanth--one of the oldest and most endangered species on the planet. Thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, the fish “returned” when South African fishermen caught one as by-catch in 1938.

Though coelacanth specimens have been studied before, what made this expedition unique was that it allowed the world to experience the coelacanth in its natural habit—deep, dark caves up to 700 meters below the sea. Known as “living fossils” because of evolutionary characteristics left behind by modern-day fish (hollow tail spines, unique fin coordination, and armored scales), the search for the coelacanth filled gaps missing from the fish’s 65 million (and counting) year story.

The ancient Coelcanth in its natural habitat.

The ancient Coelcanth in its natural habitat.

In the wake of World War II at the onset of the Cold War, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests on the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall archipelago. The goal of the tests was to further understand the power of the country’s newest weapon, the atomic bomb, and also display its might. The US brought more than a hundred different ships, tanks and other armor to the atoll to see how they would survive nuclear attacks. 

Our expedition into the Bikini Atoll supported the study of long-term effects of nuclear detonation testing on the marine environment. Using tools attached to the Octo ROV, soil as well as other items from the seafloor were investigated for radioactivity. What we found was years later, coral and marine life in the Bikini Atoll had become resilient, the soil no longer had traces of radioactivity, and an ecosystem that—even after sustaining a bomb a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima—had recovered and adapted. 

Mr. Allen's curiosity has led us to the hydrothermal vents where life begins and to the Bikini Atoll where many thought life would cease to exist. With his support we have live-streamed famous shipwrecks we thought were forever lost and discovered ancient vessels of origins unknown. His drive to answer "how?" and "why?" have introduced new and important information and images, which fill gaps in our knowledge of science and history, and the exploration tools aboard the Octopus and Petrel help us and others discover and preserve artifacts for future generations. 

As long as there are places left unexplored and mysteries unsolved, Mr. Allen and my team will continue our search for the discoveries that lie below the surface of our deepest frontier.