Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died in October, but his passion for hunting for World War II shipwrecks didn't end when his life did. Allen funded missions that famously found the USS Lexington, USS Juneau, and USS Indianapolis, and in January, the first expedition since his death commenced. Writing for the New York Times Magazine, Ed Caesar joined the hunt for the USS Wasp aboard the Petrel, "perhaps the best-equipped, and certainly the most successful, private vessel on Earth for finding deepwater wrecks." Purchased by Allen in 2016, the 250-foot oil-and-gas-maintenance ship was transformed into a wreck hunter armed with an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) worth $5 million apiece. Just filling the fuel tank costs $650,000. The goal was to find the Wasp, an aircraft carrier that was struck by a Japanese sub's torpedoes in the Coral Sea on Sept. 15, 1942.
The Wasp's situation was hopeless, and the nearby USS Lansdowne was ordered to fire a second wave of torpedos into it, sending it to a watery grave more than 2.5 miles down. Some 194 of the more than 2,200 men aboard lost their lives that day. Finding their final resting place would be no easy task. "You need to find the haystack before you can find the needle," Caesar writes, both due to the depth, the often imprecise nature of WWII-era ship-position-plotting methods, and the timeline—the 15-day search period and particulars of the AUV meant there would be a maximum of 15 chances to send the drone down. They found debris right away. But after searching 150 square miles, there was no ship. The coordinates plotted as the Wasp went down had been wrong. The debris wasn't the Wasp's. But it did provide a big clue—and gave birth to a theory that led to the Wasp. Read the full story here. (More Longform stories.)