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Titanic explorer finds Yorktown

First look at U.S. ship that helped win Battle of Midway

June 4, 1998
Web posted at: 11:07 p.m. EDT (0307 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Fifty-six years after the USS Yorktown sank into a watery Pacific grave at the hands of the Japanese, the world got its first glimpse Thursday of the aircraft carrier's ghostly, but remarkably well-preserved, remains.

The team of explorers who located the wreckage of the Yorktown on May 19 unveiled photos and video of the ship, buried under 16,650 feet of water near the Pacific island of Midway, about 1,300 miles west of Hawaii.

The ship was sitting upright on the ocean floor, its giant anti-aircraft guns still aimed skyward.

The wreck was discovered by a team led by Robert Ballard, the undersea explorer who also found the wrecks of the Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck.

See the ship
video icon 2.5 M/46 sec./320x240
1.6 M/46 sec./160x120
QuickTime movie

CNN's Jonathan Karl reports on the discovery

Ballard says the Yorktown search was tougher than Titanic because the ocean was a full mile deeper. The first clue that explorers were close came when they saw piles of mud scattered around the ocean floor, a typical pattern caused when a giant ship slams into the sea floor.

A meticulous search of the area with sonar turned up "the great steel wall of the Yorktown," Ballard said.

"There was absolutely no biological growth on it. It was the most sterile water environment I've ever seen. You could see all the way across the flight deck," he said.

The video footage shows stainless steel on the vessel still shiny. Viewers can peer into a bomb hole and view the airplane elevator and other equipment.

The Yorktown, immortalized in the movie "Midway," helped the United States win the pivotal Battle of Midway in 1942, which devastated the Japanese fleet and ended the threat of an invasion of Hawaii.

On June 7, 1942, the Yorktown was hit by Japanese bombers and then torpedoed by a submarine. Miraculously, only 40 U.S. servicemen were killed; 2,270 survived.

Among them was Bill Surgi, who was a member of the search team that found the Yorktown's remains. He still has the helmet he wore as the ship went down.

An explosion on the Yorktown during the Battle of Midway in 1942  

"When I was in the water, with my lifejacket and my broken arm laying on the jacket, swimming around in circles, some officer said, 'You better take that off, son. It will cause you to sink,'" Surgi said. "So with one arm, I took it off and I buckled it on to my belt. I saved it then, and I'm still saving it."

"That (ship) was my home, so I was home again. I was glad to see it," he said.

Now that the Yorktown has been found, its discoverers say they will leave it undisturbed. The National Geographic Society plans to make a documentary about the quest to find the ship, to be released next year.

"I see in this a tremendous opportunity to bring back to life the Battle of Midway by breathing into it contemporary history -- by going and finding it, by documenting it, by having your own struggle," Ballard said.

Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Reuters contributed to this report.

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