The crash followed by the sinking of the S.S. Pacific in November 1875 reportedly predates Washington’s statehood. The crash – one of, if not the deadliest disaster to take place off the coast of the Pacific Northwest – took over 300 lives.
However, two individuals miraculously survived this wreck. The survivors beat exceptional odds. Per records, they were clinging to wreckage for over a day before they could be rescued.
The lifeboats that were on the vessel could not be used; they were filled with water to balance the vessel that used big paddle wheels powered by its steam engine.
One of the survivors was Henry F. Jelly. He informed the Daily British Colonist that he was in bed when another vessel ran into a collision with the Pacific. He recalled terrific chaos as the ship started sinking with none behind the wheel of the ship – passengers crying, including a woman whose child was killed during the panic of passengers struggling to get off the vessel.
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The Pacific departed from Olympia early during the morning of 4 November. It made several stops and picked up prominent guests.
There has been a belief that there was gold on it, giving the passengers – and their link to the Cassiar gold rush – a rush that led to over a million dollars worth of gold coming out of the region in the 1870s, a part of history that is forgotten.
While the overall death toll makes the sinking historical, the importance extends beyond just the numbers. While the ship’s history and potential treasures have compelled many to search for the vessel, those behind the find seem more intrigued by the history than its treasures.
Jeff Hummel, part of Rockfish Inc., the individuals who eventually discovered the shipwreck, has a long experience and history of looking for sunken artifacts. His partner Matt McCauley and he are locals – the pair made it to the headlines in the ’80s when the then-students came across a World War II dive bomber in the waters of Lake Washington.
Looking for sunken treasures and diving into history books became a hobby and passion. Hummel was tapped by a group to search for the S.S. Pacific due to their publicized dive bomber discovery, but after a team sunk money and countless hours into discovering the ship, the work eventually dried up. Hummel rallied yet another team, but ultimately, that quest too ended.
This most recent effort was, however, different. A group of over 25 people invested their time in a shared dream of looking for the S.S. Pacific.
A group of 40-plus individuals helped fund the assignment, which Hummel estimates have exceeded $2 million when accounting for the total labor hours.
Despite such a high price tag, that is a relatively small number in terms of searching for a sunken vessel. The local Rockfish group running along with a non-profit dubbed the
Northwest Shipwreck Alliance was able to operate on a shoestring budget by developing much of the equipment they operate.
Draco and Falcor, the two remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) the team created, are made with a combination of parts they have made and over-the-counter items they have modified for surviving the depths at which they had to dive to find the vessel.
The ROVs captured some side-scan sonar photographs that were later confirmed via optical cameras that permitted the team to identify the vessel.
The exact location has not been released in public, but documents of the court needed the firm to share a general location to restrict would-be salvage operations from jumping in on their finds.
The vessel reportedly came to rest off the Washington coast about 40 miles toward the south of Cape Flattery, and 23 miles offshore.
A 100-year-storm hits at the same time when the ship goes down
The team was capable of finding the location by identifying the coal that the local fishermen netted while they were trawling fish.
That find, teamed with decades of archival research, helped pinpoint a location to search. Yet, Hummel said that the location was near the boundary of the area they were looking at.
The find was undoubtedly difficult for several reasons, including the truth that a 100-year storm had hit at the same time the vessel went down back in 1875. Hummel reported to FOX 13 Seattle that other groups that searched the area had missed evidence on the seafloor between 1,000 and 3,000 feet below water.
It looks different than anyone had expected, he elaborated. Initially, it looked like the wrong shape, size, and everything. Then on slowly working through with the robots, imaging items, and looking at it they realized: it was the ship. It took them some time to realize.
The next step revolved around the recovery of the items found on board, and the ship. That work is yet to begin in 2023/2024.
According to Hummel, this has the potential to be a “world-class find,” based on the initial information they’ve recovered. He believes it’s likely they could find anything from wine bottles with the corks still intact, to the clothing of wool or leather.
References: Fox Weather, Fox 13 Seattle, Yahoo! News