Gold Rush-Era Shipwreck That Killed over 300 People Discovered Off Washington Coast

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Maritime archeologists have recently discovered a famous Gold Rush-era shipwreck that was a part of one of the deadliest Maritime disasters in the Northwest region 147 years ago off the Washington coastline.

The S.S. Pacific was planned to sail from British Columbia, Canada, to San Francisco in November 1875, transporting a significant amount of gold, oats and hops, hides, and around 230 tons of coal.

But after picking up passengers in Olympia on November 4, the Pacific collided with another sailing ship, Orpheus, near Cape Flattery — the most Northwestern point of the contiguous United States. Of the 275 passengers and 50 crew members aboard on the Pacific, only two individuals survived the collision as the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean.

Nearly 150 years later, researchers with a Washington salvage company Rockfish Inc., alongside the nonprofit Northwest Shipwreck Alliance, say they have discovered the shipwreck using technology that includes sonar scans, a bottom-towed underwater camera sled, underwater tracking systems, and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

Captain Jefferson Davis Howell was master of Pacific when she was sunk in 1875. (Lewis & Dryden’s Marine History of the Pacific Northwest)

It took a crew of 40 people through 12 missions between 2017 and 2022 with a budget of over $2 million to confirm they had found the Pacific.

According to KING 5 News, the researchers found a piece of old coal in commercial fishermen’s nets while trawling for fish. After they had the coal chemically analyzed, they discovered it was a match to the ship, and they began working to zero in on the location of the wreck.

Jeff Hummel of Rockfish noted that although archeologists were unsure if they had found the ship since it looked “different than expected,” they realized over time it was the Pacific.

“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,” Hummel told Fox 13.

The wreck’s exact location has not been made public, although a federal judge has granted researchers with Rockfish to salvage the ship in an exclusively designated area. The ship is believed to be located some 40 miles south of Cape Flattery and 23 miles offshore, about 1,000 to 3,000 feet underneath the ocean, according to Hummel.

Crews will soon begin a long process of salvaging the shipwreck, which is still believed to have several valuable artifacts, including gold. The process is set to occur in either 2023 or 2024.

You can follow Ethan Letkeman on Twitter at @EthanLetkeman.


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