The USS Independence has remained submerged a half-mile deep off the coast of California for 65 years, out of human sight since it was purposely relegated to the bottom of the ocean by the US Navy in 1951, reportedly with a bunch of 50-gallon barrels containing radioactive waste, per the Mercury News. This week, however, thousands of viewers watched as the first photos other than sonar scans of the 623-foot aircraft carrier were shown live online, courtesy of the same ocean explorer who discovered the Titanic, among other famous shipwrecks—and those pics show the Independence is in remarkably good shape in its watery grave. "There's very little change from when the Navy scuttled it," Robert Ballard says of his team's documentation, in conjunction with the Navy and the NOAA, adding the Titanic was similarly well-kept. "The deep sea is the largest museum on Earth."
Viewers saw such wonders as the Independence's sponge-covered flight deck, a Grumman Hellcat fighter plane, and even the ship's name imprinted on its hull, all at the same time as researchers on the Nautilus exploration vessel, who sent out two remote-controlled submersibles Monday and Tuesday to capture the pictures about 30 miles west of Half Moon Bay. What the deep-sea dive didn't find: any evidence of the atomic waste rumored to have been sunk with the ship, per USA Today, though a UC Berkeley nuclear engineering expert tells the Mercury News any danger posed by such waste would've long since dissipated. The 74-year-old Ballard says he treated his newest subject with the same respect he does all his shipwrecks, leaving artifacts intact. "Taking things off would be like bringing a shovel to Gettysburg," he says. (Sonar images of the Independence were first seen last year.)