Shipwreck sleuths document WWI sub’s remains

Stern torpedo tube
A remotely operated vehicle uses its robotic arm to inspect the stern torpedo tube of the Australian submarine AE1. (Image courtesy of Paul G. Allen, Find AE1, ANMM and Curtin University / © Navigea Ltd.)

Score another undersea revelation for the crew of the Petrel, a research vessel backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

This time it’s the AE1, Australia’s first submarine and the first Allied submarine loss of World War I.

The AE1 was lost at sea with 35 officers and crew on board on Sept. 14, 1914, after it sailed away on patrol near the Duke of York Islands, east of Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean.

For more than a century, the Royal Australian Navy had no idea what happened to the sub. Not a trace of it was found — until last December. That’s when an autonomous underwater vehicle operated by the Royal Australian Navy used side-scan sonar to detect the wreck on the seafloor, more than 300 meters (984 feet) beneath the surface.

The precise location wasn’t disclosed, to keep salvagers from interfering with what’s essentially an underwater gravesite. But the Australian search effort, coordinated by a company called Find AE1 Ltd., enlisted the Petrel and its remotely operated vehicle to capture high-resolution video and stills of the remains.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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