As we work in this seemingly alien environment, 1330 meters (4300 feet) below our ship, observed down there by the wreck's inhabitants, we are always struck by the humanity present on the site. Amid the platters and plates are drinking glasses, and the plates all bear the scars of countless meals. A pair of spectacles lies in the sand. Everywhere we look are reminders that what lies scattered here was once a place where the officers gathered for meals, conversations and brief respites from command. Forward, where the forecastle once was, there are traces of how the sailors occupied their below deck haven.
Last night, as we explored the area where the ship's navigational instruments are, we spotted a dark rectangular object. It is a writing slate. It is not just ANY slate, though. It is the deck officer's working slate in which the ship's last positions and orders were written, impermanently, before being transcribed into the logbook. The final actions taken by the officers in the ship's last desperate hours would have been on that slate. Looking at it, you cannot help but think about those men. Looking at how things lie on the seabed, and all that sits there, such as their navigational tools, I think not a one of them made it out of the sinking alive. If so, we would not be finding what we are.
In April 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship Okeanos Explorer conducted the first reconnaissance of shipwreck site 15577 as part of an interdisciplinary exploration mission focusing on deepwater hard-bottom habitat, naturally occurring gas seeps, and potential shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico. First identified as a side scan sonar target in 2011, Okeanos's brief ROV dive made a truly exciting discovery contributes to our understanding of a turbulent period of American history.