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The Missing Submarine: Engineers Prepare to Raise Hunley from Ocean Floor

Aired June 9, 2000 - 1:23 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: A Civil War artifact may soon see the light of day once again. Engineers off the coast of South Carolina working now to raise the Hunley submarine from the ocean floor.

Here is Brian Cabell with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Below this dive boat off the coast of Charleston lies a 136-year-old mystery. The Hunley, the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship, is down there, and divers every day are getting a better look at it.

The Hunley's encrusted in a thick rock-like coating, but divers say it appears to be in remarkably good shape. They believe the bodies of her nine-man crew, along with their possessions, remain inside, possibly in a semi-preserved state. Visibility without the big camera light is limited.

ROBERT NEYLAND, HUNLEY RECOVERY DIRECTOR: It goes everywhere from having two or three feet of visibility, to being in a coal mine with the lights out.

CABELL: This is a replica of the Hunley as it appeared when it sank during the U.S. Civil War. The 40-foot-long submarine was designed to break the union blockade of Charleston Harbor. And on February 16, 1864, the hand-cranked sub rammed a Union warship, stuck an explosive device in its side and blew it up. But then the Hunley itself sank. No one knows why.

Two previous crews lost their lives on the experimental vessel. They're now buried in Charleston. But the third crew ignored the danger and went, nevertheless.

GLENN MCCONNELL, HUNLEY COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Fear was just an element that they had put aside. They were focused on breaking the blockade. Their duty, as they saw it, to the state, and that's all that mattered to them.

CABELL: After 136 years, the dive and engineering crew intends to bring the submarine and her crew back up.

(on camera): The Hunley lies more than 30 feet below the surface. On top of it is about three feet of sand and silt. That's what they're removing right now. In effect, they are vacuuming the area.

(voice-over): Once that's completed, they'll use an elaborate truss with heavy-duty straps to gingerly lift the Hunley from the water.

WARREN LASCH, FRIEND OF HUNLEY: I can guarantee you, I'll cry. I will. I get tears in my eyes once in a while when I think about the bravery of these men, and to bring them home finally, after all these years, and get them out of that cold sea bed, I'm going to cry.

CABELL: Emotion for some, intellectual curiosity for others. Not only is the Hunley a time capsule, it was a naval vessel way ahead of its time. It took another half-century before another sub sank an enemy ship.

Brian Cabell, CNN, Charleston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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