Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s deep-sea exploration legacy gets a moment: the U.S.S. Lexington

Oct 16, 2018

The son of a World War II veteran, billionaire Paul Allen passed away on Monday at the age of 65. Allen was best known for being the co-founder of tech giant Microsoft. His contributions to deep-sea archaeology, though, are no less monumental.

Allen’s latest and perhaps greatest deep-sea discovery was that of the World War II-era aircraft carrier the U.S.S Lexington, affectionately known as “Lady Lex,” which sank 76 years ago and was rediscovered in March of this year.

The research vessel Petrel, owned by Allen, located the wreck 2 miles below the surface in the Coral Sea, 500 miles off Australia’s east coast. The team had planned a six-month search after receiving the coordinates of the wreck’s supposed location. The 250-foot research vessel was retrofitted with subsea equipment that could access depths of 3.5 miles.

A bird’s-eye view of the flight deck of American aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington (circa 1940). Getty Images | Keystone

“We’re dealing with an environment out here that is very harsh,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations, under Allen. “It’s thousands of meters deep and it’s very unpredictable. We’re putting, you know, a lot of electronics and high voltage down in very deep waters and sea waters where it shouldn’t belong, and so that always presents challenges.”

The team captured stunning images of large anti-aircraft guns, blast shields, and 11 of the carrier’s 35 aircraft strewn across the ocean floor. The several decades spent on the sea bottom had clearly taken their toll. She sank following the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942, taking 216 crewmen along with her.

One of the U.S.S. Lexington’s 35 aircraft strewn on seafloor of Coral Sea Getty Images | DOUGLAS CURRAN
Anti-aircraft gun turret mounted on the U.S.S. Lexington Getty Images | DOUGLAS
High-caliber gun mounted on the U.S.S. Lexington Getty Images | DOUGLAS CURRAN

Launched in 1925, the U.S.S. Lexington was one of the first aircraft carriers built by the United States. She fought alongside the Yorktown, another U.S. carrier, and on May 4, 1942, they engaged three Japanese aircraft carriers—marking the first-ever carrier-on-carrier battle in history.

After the Lexington sustained multiple hits from bombs and torpedoes and a secondary explosion caused an uncontrollable fire, the decision was made to abandon ship. After the evacuation of nearly 2,770 crew and officers, including the captain and his dog Wags, the ship’s mascot, the carrier was scuttled with torpedoes to prevent it from being captured by the Japanese.

Sailors abandon ship by sliding down ropes to be picked up by small boats. Getty Images | DOUGLAS

“As the son of a survivor of the U.S.S. Lexington, I offer my congratulations to Paul Allen and the expedition crew of Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel for locating the ‘Lady Lex,’ sunk nearly 76 years ago at the Battle of Coral Sea,” said Navy Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command, in a statement. “We honor the valor and sacrifice of the ‘Lady Lex’s’ Sailors—all those Americans who fought in World War II—by continuing to secure the freedoms they won for all of us.”

Allen’s research has uncovered several other notable finds, including, among others, the U.S.S. Ward in November, 2017, the U.S.S. Indianapolis in August of the same year, the U.S.S. Astoria in February, 2015, and in the same year, Japanese battleship the Musashi.


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