Sunday, January 01, 2006

Missing view port muddies long-held theory of Hunley's disappearance


Island Packet
By John C. Drake
December 28, 2005

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Scientists chipping away the hard layer of mud that covers the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley have discovered that a view port on the front of the vessel is missing.

If no pieces of the view port are found in the ship, then it is possible the tower was knocked off when the sub sank. That would conflict with the prevailing theory that the tower was blown in by an enemy warship, causing the Hunley to fill with water.

As scientists break away the concretion covering the Hunley, they are finding clues that they hope will explain why the historic vessel disappeared right after it became the first submarine ever to sink an enemy warship in 1864.

"Any damage to those viewports could have been fatal to the Hunley," said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston and chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission. "What is significant therefore about the find is that we don't find a damaged viewport, we find one completely missing."

Other evidence uncovered in the restoration process indicates that the crew of the Union's Housatonic may have spotted the Hunley because the glow of lights likely seeped through the view port on the front conning tower.

Unlike other deadlights running along the top of the submarine, the lights on the conning tower did not have covers to block the glow of candles.

Records indicate that the Hunley was spotted and fired on moments before its crew shot a torpedo at the Housatonic.

The new clues are heightening interest in what is hidden behind a century of packed mud in other parts of the ship.

"It makes now more important than ever to examine the front tower and hatch and determine if the hatch was in fact completely fastened or was injured by potentially the damage from the front eyepiece," McConnell said.

He said with the removal of the concretion, the Hunley Commission could begin to see "a discovery a month."

The slow process of removing the material is just about 5 percent complete, he said. Given the pace, he said scientists are probably 10 to 12 months away from uncovering the mystery of why the Hunley failed to return after its mission.

Archaeologists hope to finish the restoration by 2009.

The sub was discovered off the South Carolina coast a decade ago and raised in 2000. The remains of the Hunley's eight-man crew were buried last year in a Charleston ceremony.



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