Shipwreck from California Gold Rush discovered

Published: Dec. 4, 2022 at 12:07 PM CST
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SEATTLE (KING) – A salvage company in Washington State believes it has located the wreckage of a nearly 150-year-old shipwreck.

The steamship S.S. Pacific went down in November of 1875 with the loss of at least 325 passengers on board.

The sonar images of the shipwreck, more than 1,000 feet below the water, are unmistakable to the trained eye.

The steamship S.S. Pacific was last traveling from Seattle to San Francisco when it collided with a large sailing ship in the dark of night.

Jeff Hummel said the ship had a major impact to the history of the northwest of the United States.

“It was the first ship that was carrying passengers on a regularly scheduled service between Seattle and San Francisco,” he said.

Current estimates put that number at 325 people, probably more. Also onboard were tons of oats and hops, hides, 230 tons of coal and a substantial amount of gold, as detailed in a newspaper article published shortly after the Pacific went down.

Jeff Hummel has been exploring northwest waters since the 1980s, and his love of history has driven him to search for the Pacific. The endeavor began in 1993 and was reignited in 2017 after years of painstaking research.

“Eventually I found a commercial fisherman who brought up some old coal and just by strange circumstance he happened to still have the piece and so I was able to get it chemically analyzed by a laboratory up in Alberta,” Hummel said.

It was a match to the ship, and he and his team began to close in. They finally identified the ship after 12 missions. Two circular depressions that can be seen mark the distinctive paddle wheels of the Pacific.

“They had fallen out of the ship when it broke up near the surface and they are several hundred meters away from the actual wreck,” Hummel said. “It was one of the moments of actually realizing we’d actually found the ship.”

Having just secured the legal documents granting his team exclusive salvage rights, Hummel can now take a breath as he gears up for the next phase of recovery and preservation.

“The state of preservation of this wreck is on par with any of the greatest shipwreck finds in the world.”

The salvage and recovery efforts are expected to take several years. When completed, the plan is to build a museum in the Seattle area with some of the artifacts to help preserve its history.