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Team backed by Microsoft co-founder locates USS Helena

Amy Beth Hanson
Associated Press

Helena, Mont. – A Microsoft co-founder’s mission to locate sunken warships in the South Pacific has chalked up another victory with the discovery of the USS Helena nearly 75 years after it was sunk by Japanese torpedoes in the waters off the Solomon Islands, reviving stories of the battle-tested ship’s endurance and the nearly unbelievable survival of 165 of the crewmen.

Paul Allen’s team searches for the ships to “bring the history back into a relevant conversation,” said Janet Greenlee, a spokeswoman for Allen’s Vulcan Inc. “He wants to honor those that have served and are serving.”

The wreckage of the Helena was found March 23, about a half mile below the surface of the New Georgia Sound. The team identified the light cruiser by the number 50 on its side and by comparing the wreck to the USS Helena’s schematics.

In all, more than 730 of the Helena’s crew of 900 survived the July 5, 1943, sinking during the Battle of Kula Gulf.

Most of the crew was rescued out of the water and another group was picked up nearby the next day. But a third group spent nearly five days adrift in life rafts, during which some of the injured died, before the sunburned, dehydrated and emaciated men decided their best chance of survival was to take shelter on Vella Lavella Island.

The USS Helena was the third World War II discovery in less than three weeks by Allen’s R/V Petrel team. The aircraft carrier the USS Lexington was discovered March 4 and the USS Juneau, another light cruiser, was located March 17.

The USS Helena was the second of five vessels named for Montana’s capital city, and was the first ship to receive the Navy Unit Commendation for its role in the World War II battles.