Ocean holds mysteries of shipwrecks -- and TWA Flight 800
August 15, 1996
From Correspondent Jeff Flock
OFF THE COAST OF LONG ISLAND (CNN) -- To the layperson, the search for the TWA plane that crashed off the coast of Long Island last month may not seem particularly difficult. How many hulks of wreckage can there be down there?
Actually, quite a few. The waters where Flight 800 crashed July 17 has been awash with shipwrecks for centuries. Within a 20-mile radius of the site of impact, there are at least 17 shipwrecks.
Among those that dot the Atlantic Ocean floor: the Cunard liner Oregon, the fastest steamship of its day; the USS San Diego, last big warship lost in World War I; and the U-853, the last German submarine sunk in World War II. The sub, sunk by the U.S. Navy, went down with its crew aboard.
Many of the wrecks were found and mapped using the same high-tech side-scan sonar used in the TWA search.
"It's a very simple and sophisticated machine. It's perfect for surveying large areas and locating wreckage," said Dan Berg, a diver and author of "Wreck Valley," a book documenting the ships found in the area.
"Ships are not as interesting to me until they are sunk on the bottom of the ocean, and I can go down to visit them," Berg said. That's when they are exciting to me, not while they are still floating around."
Steve Bielinda dives around the armored cruiser USS San Diego, an American warship sunk by a German mine in 1918. The ship went down with its guns and ammunition still aboard.
The diver also has explored the Oregon, which held the trans-Atlantic speed record in 1885. A year later, it sank after colliding with a schooner.
Bielinda, a kind of underwater archaeologist, has harvested everything from nutcrackers to silverware to the Oregon's bow lantern. He also has found items aboard the U-853.
"This is a saucer from the U-boat; you can see the logo," he explains, showing a dish stamped with a swastika on the back. He also has found the skeletal remains of some of the 54 men who went down with the sub on May 5, 1945.
Until the TWA crash, the sinking of the U-boat was the deadliest wreck off the Long Island coast, in waters that have been home to tragedy for centuries.
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