The City of Rio de Janeiro, a passenger ship with 210 passengers and crew aboard, was on the last leg of a journey from China to the US on Feb. 22, 1901, when fog set in and it crashed into rocks at Fort Point off San Francisco, near the Golden Gate Bridge. Amid the panic and confusion, lifeboats were never launched and many passengers were trapped in their berths; the ship drifted away from the rocks and sank within 10 minutes, killing 128 people, mostly Asian emigrants. For almost 114 years, the ship's final resting place has been a mystery—but now, the wreck known as the "Bay Area's Titanic" has been found, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration located it—just half a mile from San Francisco, in 287 feet of water—using a remote submersible last month, and took 3D and sonar images. NOAA has been busily finding shipwrecks in the area in recent months.
The ship is broken and covered in sediment, and many of the passengers' bodies have never been recovered; one marine historian calls the wreck "a mud-filled tomb." Adds a maritime heritage coordinator, "Many of these people were about to start a new life in a new country. They were only perhaps an hour away from the dock in San Francisco." NOAA says many consider the tragedy the "worst maritime disaster in San Francisco history." In addition to scientists, treasure hunters have also sought the ship for years, believing it to hold a fortune in silver, but the historian says those rumors are likely wrong. The real treasure, he says, is locating the wreck itself: The moment "was like turning on the light in a dark room," he says. "It’s great. That’s why we do what we do." (A "ghost ship" was recently found off the coast of Hawaii.)