FALALOP, Micronesia--(BUSINESS WIRE)--April 9, 2001--On April 6, 2001 at 12:10 pm (local time) in Ulithi Lagoon, an independent team of three divers from the San Francisco Bay Area located and were the first to dive on the wreck of the 553-foot USS Mississinewa AO-59, the only American naval ship sunk by a kaiten, a one-man Japanese suicide submarine.
Since WWII, the ship's exact position has been in question, despite numerous prior attempts by both American and Japanese dive groups to find the wreck. James P. Delgado, Director of the Vancouver, B. C., Maritime Museum, and an expert on Japanese midget submarines, has described the lost USS Mississinewa as "the last great unsolved WWII Pacific sinking."
The dive team consisted of Lewis "Chip" Lambert, his wife, Pam Lambert, both of Fremont, California, and Pat Scannon from San Francisco, California. Chip Lambert, the team leader, working with Mike Mair, the ship's historian and author of the USS Mississinewa story (in progress), obtained photographs, taken by Sid Harris, Cherry Hill, NJ, from the rescue tug ATF-107 Munsee at the time of the sinking on November 20, 1944. Using observations from the photographs, Chip Lambert narrowed the search area from almost 200 square miles to 5 square miles. After seven straight days of searching in a small dive boat using a portable sonar unit, the team, working with Ulithians, located the tanker on a sandy bottom in 120 feet of water.
Chip Lambert, describing his first view of the ship, stated, "While descending, we saw the sea reluctantly releasing the USS Mississinewa from its grasp. I was finally convinced we were no longer looking at a photograph, a chart plot, or a detector signal, but a grave for sixty war heroes, a memorial for the surviving crewmembers and families and a symbol of honor for the people of Ulithi."
The USS Mississinewa was at berth at this key WWII US Navy installation when the kaiten, probably released by Japanese mother sub I-36 just outside Ulithi Lagoon, crept into the harbor and struck the tanker on the starboard bow, taking the lives of 60 American officers and sailors. The bow section with the forward crew berthing, where it is believed the greatest loss of lives occurred, lies on its port side with hatches open. The submarine's site of impact just aft of the bow and a secondary explosion created a huge opening in the hull. Today, the lifeless twisted metal is home for large schools of fish and other sea life. The remainder of the ship lies upside down with the twin screws and rudder angled toward the surface. The bottom blends with the surrounding sand, making the ship difficult to see from the surface. Mr. Lambert photographed only the ship's exterior. The dive team, respecting the ship as a gravesite, elected not to enter the ship.
The team coordinated its efforts with the people of Ulithi, first gaining permission to search for the ship from both Chief Pisente Talugyar, the hereditary owner of these waters, and Senator Anthony M. Tareg, local representative for Ulithi in the Fifth Legislature of Yap State. The islands' Chief Administrator, John Rulmal, critiqued the team's observations and ensured logistical support. At one point he ordered release of the atoll's remaining gasoline reserves to support the search efforts. Immediately after the search team radioed news of the find to shore, Mr. Rulmal contacted Senator Tareg by radio in Yap, 100 miles to the southwest, as Ulithi has no other means of communication with the outside world. Others involved with the search and discovery included Ulithians, Faustino Yalomai, manager of Ulithi Divers dive shop, Kenneth Wur, Mario Suk and Trip-N-Tour representative, Lisa Wallner.
With the discovery of the exact location of the Mississinewa, and in recognition that the ship is a gravesite, Ulithian leaders have met and closed the site to all sport diving, pending discussions and coordination with the US Navy. The California team, working with key Ulithians, is in the process of notifying the US Department of Navy of their findings.
In the United States, forty-eight surviving crewmembers have stayed in close contact with each other through the USS Mississinewa AO-59 Reunion Group. The California team hopes to present documentation of the Mississinewa's final resting place at their next reunion meeting.
Lewis "Chip" Lambert, MA, an owner of Pacific Offshore Divers, Inc. (PODI), is the Director of Medical Microbiology at XOMA, Ltd., Berkeley, CA. Pam Lambert, MS, also an owner of PODI, is Director of Project Management at Affymetrix, Santa Clara, CA. Patrick J. Scannon, MD, PhD, is founder and Chief Scientific and Medical Officer of XOMA, Ltd, Berkeley, CA. All three are members of the Explorers Club and have individually and together researched, located and documented other ships and aircraft lost during WWII in Palau and other parts of Micronesia. In 1993, they were part of the dive team that found the armed Japanese trawler sunk in July 1944 in northern Palau by then Ensign George Herbert Walker Bush.
Contacts and Background Information:
Chip Lambert, through PODI, 1188 Branham Lane, San Jose, CA 95118, 408-265-3484 or e-mail at email@example.com. Senator Anthony Tareg, PO Box 99, Colonia, Yap, FSM 96943, 691-350-2400/01 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike Mair, 1525 Deborah Court, Platteville, WI 53818, 608-348-3255 or e-mail at email@example.com
Jesse Fisher or Joan Kureczka, Kureczka/Martin Associates, 415/821-2413 or email Jef520@aol.com
For further background on the USS Mississinewa AO-59, see www.ussmississinewa.com.
For further information on some recent findings of the California team, see www.bentprop.org.
CONTACT: Kureczka/Martin Associates
Jesse Fisher or Joan Kureczka, 415/821-2413
KEYWORD: CALIFORNIA INTERNATIONAL ASIA PACIFIC
INDUSTRY KEYWORD: SPORTS GOVERNMENT ENTERTAINMENT