Divers find wreckage of experimental submarine built in 1907 in Connecticut | US news

Divers in Connecticut have discovered the wreckage of an experimental submarine built in 1907 and later scuttled in the Long Island Sound.

The Defender, a 92ft craft, was found on Sunday by a team led by Richard Simon, a commercial diver from Coventry, Connecticut.

Simon said he had been interested in the story of the Defender for years. He spent months going over known sonar and underwater mapping surveys, as well as government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, to identify any anomaly that fit the size of the submarine.

“A submarine has a very distinct shape,” he said. “It needs to be 100ft long and 13ft in diameter. So I made a list of everything that was that long and there was one target on that list.”

Simon then assembled a group of top wreck divers. Poor tidal conditions forced them to abandon an attempt last Friday. They returned on Sunday and discovered the Defender on the bottom, more than 150ft down, off the coast of Old Saybrook.

“It was legitimately hiding in plain sight,” he said. “It’s on the charts. It’s known about in Long Island Sound, just no one knew what it was.”

Simon described the agony of waiting on the deck of his research vessel, staring at a dive buoy in the fog and waiting for two divers to surface. Once they did and confirmed they had found a sub, the team erupted in “pure joy”, he said.

Murky picture of a diver underwaterPin
Diver Steve Abbate inspects a propeller of the Defender on Sunday 16 April 2023. Photograph: Joe Mazraani/AP

Simon said he did not want to give the exact depth, because that could give away the location.

The submarine, originally named the Lake, was built by the millionaire Simon Lake and his Bridgeport-based Lake Torpedo Boat Company in hopes of winning a competition for a US navy contract, according to NavSource Online, a website dedicated to preserving naval history.

It was an experimental vessel, with wheels to move along the sea bottom and a door that allowed divers to be released underwater.

The company lost the competition and Lake tried refitting the submarine for minesweeping, salvage and rescue work, renaming it the Defender. But he never found a buyer. It was a well-known submarine nonetheless and was even visited by the aviator Amelia Earhart in 1929, Simon said.

But the submarine spent many years docked in New London before being abandoned on a mud flat near Old Saybrook. It was scuttled by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1946 but the corps never disclosed where.

Simon said it was clear when his team found the wreckage that it was the Defender. The length, the size and the shape of protrusions on the submarine’s distinct keel, and the shape and location of diving planes characteristic of Lake-built vessels, all helped identify it.

Simon and his team plan to spend the summer diving on the sub, filming it and taking photographs. He said he and the company he and his wife own, Shoreline Diving, put up the money for the search. He has not figured out how to monetize the find, but said that was not the goal. He has contacted the US navy to see if it is interested in helping preserve the wreckage.

The ship has some protections under the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, a 1988 law that would allow it to be treated as an archaeological or historical site instead of a commercial property to be salvaged.

“So, as a wreck diver, I can go visit history; I can touch it; I can experience it,” Simon said. “It’s just a different connection to history, to the past that we don’t have in any other activity.”

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