The Team

Ship Location

NE Pacific Ocean

Russell Matthews

Photo of Russell Matthews
Science/Data Team
Volunteer Aviation Archaeologist
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (NOAA/ONMS)

Tell us about your work / research. What kinds of things do you do?

I'm a historian specializing in aviation and maritime subjects, with a strong emphasis on World War II. In addition to extensive archival work, I've spent a great deal time in the field serving and/or leading expeditions from the Pacific to the Adriatic .. locating, identifying, and documenting a variety of aircraft and shipwrecks.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

As a kid (and still as an adult) I was an avid reader, devouring books of aerial history and nautical adventure .. like Ted Lawson's "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" or Farley Mowat's "Grey Seas Under." News accounts of remarkable discoveries (such as tracking down planes for the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, the first dives to USS Monitor, and Dr. Ballard’s expeditions to find Titanic, Bismark, and USS Yorktown) made me realize that the physical remains from many of these epic stories were still out there somewhere, just waiting to be found. I knew I wanted to be a part of that someday.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

My late mother, Marie Matthews, always encouraged me to dream big and pursue my passions. She urged me to reach out and connect with people who inspired me like Stan Waterman, Clive Cussler, Dr. Delgado, and Dr. Ballard. Mom would be thrilled to know that I'm joining their ranks for the upcoming USS Independence investigation. And given that San Francisco was her town, there's a part of me that can't help feeling she will be sailing with us.

What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?

To my mind, the wrecks and relics resting beneath the world's oceans, lakes and rivers cast a unique spell all their own. They represent concrete, tangible links to events of the past .. be they great, small, celebrated, mysterious or previously unknown. Coming upon an unexplored site and teasing out the clues frozen in those last moments is utterly fascinating and surely the closest any of us will ever come to traveling in time. The ability to share that experience with the public as it happens through Jason and the Nautilus Live program is a thrill and privilege that makes it all extremely gratifying.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

Among other things, I've worked as the senior researcher on television documentaries, written, directed, and produced historically set films, and co-authored a non-fiction book. In between, I've served on the board of a non-profit educational foundation, joined the Explorers Club and supported or volunteered for worthy causes that caught my interest. It's been an exciting ride and I can't wait to see what comes next.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Arts in History -- Davidson College 1991

What are your hobbies?

I'm a certified diver and also earned a private pilot’s license, which has certainly come in handy when seeking our submerged aviation heritage. I also enjoy downhill skiing, but haven't found a good opportunity to incorporate that in any expeditions (yet).

What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Always be reading, seeking, and learning. Search out primary sources (beyond the internet) and, where possible, get your hands dirty (or wet, as the case may be) out in the field. Most importantly, make friends with those who share your passions. I'm constantly learning and benefitting from the knowledge, experience, and efforts of my peers. They've made my own projects better and given me amazing opportunities to help them in return.

How did you get involved in the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?

In recent years I have helped conduct and coordinate historical research for a variety of NOAA and OET projects .. such as the joint survey of the sunken US Navy airship USS Macon (ZRS-5) completed last year (August 2015). I was also part of the initial planning workshop that identified targets of interest in the Eastern Pacific, including the wreck of USS Independence (CVL-22). When it came time for this mission, Dr. Delgado kindly recommended me for the Nautilus team and OET graciously offered me a berth. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to participate as a "scientist afloat!"