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Researchers find second warship from WWII Battle of Midway

Caleb Jones

Midway Atoll, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands – A crew of deep-sea explorers and historians looking for lost World War II warships have found a second Japanese aircraft carrier that went down in the historic Battle of Midway.

Vulcan Inc.'s director of undersea operations Rob Kraft and Naval History and Heritage Command historian Frank Thompson reviewed high frequency sonar images of the warship Sunday and say that it's dimensions and location mean it has to be the carrier Akagi.

Rob Kraft, director of undersea operations at Vulcan Inc., reviews sonar scans of a warship from the World War II Battle of Midway that was found by the crew of the research vessel Petrel, Sunday.

The Akagi was found in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument resting in nearly 18,000 feet (5,490 meters) of water more than 1,300 miles (2,090 kilometers) northwest of Pearl Harbor.

The researchers used an autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, equipped with sonar to find the ship. The vehicle had been out overnight collecting data, and the image of a warship appeared in the first set of readings Sunday morning.

The find comes on the heels of the discovery of another Japanese carrier, the Kaga, last week.

"We read about the battles, we know what happened. But when you see these wrecks on the bottom of the ocean and everything, you kind of get a feel for what the real price is for war," said Frank Thompson, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, D.C., who is onboard the Petrel. "You see the damage these things took, and it's humbling to watch some of the video of these vessels because they're war graves."

Pictured is a sonar scan of a WWII Japanese warship that was found by the crew of the research vessel Petrel Sunday off Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Sonar images of the Kaga show the bow of the heavy carrier hit the seafloor at a high rate of speed, scattering debris and leaving an impact crater that looks as if an explosion occurred in the ocean. The front of the vessel is buried in mud and sediment after nose-diving about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) to the bottom.

The U.S. bombs that struck the Kaga caused a massive fire that left it charred, but the ship stayed mostly together. Its guns, some still intact, stick out the side.

Until now, only one of the seven ships that went down in the June 1942 air and sea battle — five Japanese vessels and two American — had been located.

The crew of the research vessel Petrel is hoping to find and survey all lost ships from the 1942 Battle of Midway, which historians consider a pivotal fight for the U.S. in the Pacific during WWII.

In this Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, photo, Vulcan Inc. director of subsea operations on the Petrel, Rob Kraft, left, looks at images of the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga.

The battle was fought between American and Japanese aircraft carriers and warplanes about 200 miles (320 kilometers) off Midway Atoll, a former military installation that the Japanese hoped to capture in a surprise attack.

The U.S., however, intercepted Japanese communications about the strike and were waiting when they arrived. More than 2,000 Japanese and 300 Americans died.

The expedition is an effort started by the late Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft. For years, the crew of the 250-foot (76-meter) Petrel has worked with the U.S. Navy and other officials around the world to locate and document sunken ships. It has found more than 30 vessels so far.

Kraft says the crew's mission started with Allen's desire to honor his father's military service. Allen died last year.

"It really extends beyond that at this time," Kraft said. "We're honoring today's service members, it's about education and, you know, bringing history back to life for future generations."

In this May 1942 file photo a Japanese heavy cruiser of the Mogami class lies low in the water after being bombed by U.S. naval aircraft during the Battle of Midway. Researchers scouring the world's oceans for sunken World War II ships are honing in on debris fields deep in the Pacific.