US Navy tug that mysteriously went missing along with its 56 crew a 100 years-ago has been found

A lost US Navy tugboat has been recovered nearly a century after it went missing. The wreck was discovered in 2009, 189 feet below, roughly three miles off Southeast Farallon Island in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Finally, in 2014, a team of government experts started looking into the accident, and nearly a year later, in 2015, they declared that it was the missing USS Conestoga.

The USS Conestoga did not begin its career in the US Navy. It was really designed to carry coal barges for the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company. It was 170 feet long and mostly composed of steel, with wood for the deck and few top elements. It was one of the largest seagoing tugboats at the time.

The USS Conestoga (pictured in San Diego, California in 1921) has been found off the coast of California – nearly a century after it went missing. source

Following the United States’ entry into World War I, the US Navy bought the Conestoga in 1917. It proceeded to tow down the Atlantic coast. It was assigned to Naval Base No. 13, Azores, afterthe conclusion of the war. When the war ended, it was assigned to harbor tug duties at Norfolk, Virginia. It was classed as USS Conestoga AT 54 in 1920 and underwent many modifications. The ship was thereafter sent to serve as a station ship in American Samoa. The commanding officer was US Navy Lt. Ernest L. Jones.

However, after leaving San Francisco, the USS Conestoga and her crew vanished. It had been on its way to Hawaii before arriving at its ultimate destination, but after it departed the harbor, neither the ship nor its 56-man crew were seen again.

The stern of the USS Conestoga. Photo: NOAA/Teledyne SeaBotix

Weather data suggest that the wind in San Francisco’s Golden Gate region had reached 40 miles per hour about the time of the Conestoga’s departure, driving up the waters and producing tremendous waves. The USS Conestoga allegedly made radio contact with another ship. The message was jumbled and brief: the Conestoga was “battling a storm and that the barge she was carrying had been blown adrift by strong seas.”

When the ship failed to arrive at Hawaii, the Navy began the biggest air and sea search in history, covering hundreds of thousands of square miles. However, they were unable to find the vessel. They did uncover one lifeboat off the coast of Manzanillo, Mexico, with the letter “c” on its bow.

Now fast forward to the present. NOAA is now engaged in a multi-year effort to locate, document, and examine over 300 shipwrecks in the waters near San Francisco. The Conestoga was discovered during underwater surveys, and NOAA pinpointed its position. NOAA Deputy Administrator Manson Brown said of the discoveries of the USS Conestoga, “After almost a century of uncertainty and a tremendous feeling of loss, the Conestoga’s disappearance no longer is a mystery.”

The USS Conestoga Engineers Division. Photo: Naval History & Heritage Command NH 71500

According to the current understanding, the USS Conestoga was attempting to reach a sheltered bay on Southeast Farallon Island. It would have weathered the storm there, but sadly, it did not make it.

The wreck’s investigators have captured several images and videos, which may be viewed online. The ship appears to be mostly intact and laying on the seafloor in the videos. There is some wear and tear from time and rust. The wooden deck, as well as several of the other, more fragile components, have collapsed. Marine life has taken hold of the ship, covering its surface and, no likely, its inside. So yet, no human remains have been discovered, leaving the crew’s fate unknown.

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