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In a first, National Park Service ‘live dive’ takes viewers to the wreckage of USS Utah

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Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 4:16 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 9, 2021 at 5:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time ever, divers conducted a live underwater show-and-tell on the wreckage of the USS Utah, which sits partially submerged off Ford Island.

“This is one of the big 5-inch 38-caliber guns, with all the silver still showing,” National Park Service diver Billy Crowe said, as he swam around the ship at a depth of 15 feet.

The virtual tour was broadcast on YouTube.

Through a camera lens, viewers saw the ship’s condition after being underwater for 80 years.

“We’ve got teak right here, and then salvage cables that were left. They did try to right the ship but they abandoned that after about a year,” Crowe said.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes torpedoed the Utah. It was the first ship hit during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It capsized within minutes, trapping and killing 58 servicemen.

“Here we are coming up on one of the hatches. I look at this hatch and think about the mayhem those men went through,” Crowe said.

The remains of 52 of them are entombed in the structure.

Live dives have been done on the USS Arizona, but this was the first on the Utah.

“Using the ability we have to to broadcast from underwater, which is technically a bit of a challenge, and have the skill sets to do that affords us an opportunity to engage the public and share with them what that resource is,” said Scott Pawlowski, chief of the National Park Service Cultural and Natural Resources Agency.

After the battleship went down, the Navy did more than 5,000 salvage dives before giving up and abandoning the effort.

John Hopkins of Classic Diving dressed in a 1940s-era dive suit to show the gear they used when doing the work.

“With this equipment you could spend a good amount of time here, depending upon your depth and your decompression,” he said.

The USS Arizona and USS Utah are the only two battleships that remain where they capsized. Much of the Utah is covered with coral and sea cucumbers.

“The ship is basically a living reef at this point,” Crowe said. “It’s home to several numerous species ― turtles, reef fish, rays. There’s a puffer fish that makes it home here as well.”

National Park Service rangers frequently dive on the Utah’s wreckage for research. In the future they hope to broadcast more dives so the public can take part.

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