‘World-Class Find’: Shipwreck Carrying ‘Treasure Trove’ Of Artifacts Found 147 Years After Sinking
Credit: Simon McGill via Getty Images.

A group of historical preservationists believe that they have discovered the wreck of a Gold Rush-era ship that went down off the coast of Washington which carried gold worth millions today. 

The explorers believe that they have found the wreck of the SS Pacific, which sunk in November 1875 after a collision with another ship off in the Pacific Northwest, leading to the death of over 300 passengers and the loss of almost $5 million in today’s gold. 

Jeff Hummel, one of the leaders of the non-profit Northwest Shipwreck Alliance and Rockfish Inc, said that the find could be a “world-class find” based on initial information. 

“It looks so different than anyone ever expected,” Hummel told Fox 13 Seattle. “Initially, it looks like the wrong size, shape and everything. You slowly work through using the robots, imaging things and looking at it that eventually we realized: ‘Oh wait, that is the ship.’ It took a while.”

One piece of evidence that the shipwreck found by Hummel’s team was actually the Pacific was the fact that they were able to locate the ship’s paddle wheels, which had become disconnected from the ship as part of the wreck. 

“Historical accounts describe the Pacific partially breaking up at the surface, so we expected to find paddle wheels independent from the rest of the ship,” said Philip Drew of the Northwest Shipwreck Alliance. “Sure enough, we were able to image both paddle wheels with sonar and view the uncovered portion of them with the ROV in a nearby debris field.”

The news from the find comes after Rockfish Inc. was granted the exclusive right to salvage the wreck by U.S. District Judge James Robart. The salvaging project, expected to begin sometime in 2023, could bring legal challenges pertaining to any gold that may be found with the ship. 

Hummel has said that he thinks there could be a “treasure trove of artifacts” still with the ship, which he hopes to allocate to a museum dedicated to the ship’s story, whose wreck has been considered one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history. 

The ship, which was captained by Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ brother-in-law Jefferson Davis Howell, was struck by the S/V Orpheus. The Pacific sank in about an hour.

The search efforts, which cost an estimated $2 million, involved dozens of people and relied on robots designed by Hummel and his team. Two remotely operated vehicles, known as Falcor and Dra, were created specifically for scanning the ocean floor about 40 miles southwest of Cape Flattery

The crew does not expect to come across any human remains — passengers on the ship included gold miners, well-to-do couples, and workers from China — as they bring the ship back to the surface.

“We take this very seriously, and this is a somber deal. This is not like woo-hoo party time kind of a thing,” McCauley told Courthouse News. “A lot of people died, even though their remains might not be in the vessel itself. We’re treating it with some dignity and reverence here because it is the final resting place of a great tragedy. There’s some real horror stories that these poor individuals befell oftentimes before they actually perished.”

Hummel and Matt McCauley, another proprietor of Rockfish, began their partnership in looking for lost history back in their college days, when they located a sunken bomber ship in Lake Washington.

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