Two New Jersey divers sent waves throughout the wreck-diving community with the discovery of what is believed to the "bridge bell" from the historic shipwreck of the Andrea Doria, the luxury Italian ocean liner that sunk in 1953 off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Ernest Rookey, of Jackson, and Carl Bayer, of Hillsborough, were part of an expedition team diving on the wreck when they made the find 240 feet below the ocean's surface.
Both men were diving the Andrea Doria for the first time as last minute fill-ins on the expedition after two other crew members dropped out.
“This is an incredibly significant find,” said expedition group leader, Joel Silverstein, of Arizona. “Think of it like finding a needle in a haystack.”
The bell, which weighs about 75lbs and stands two feet tall, is one of the few artifacts which has the ship’s name engraved on it.
The last major discovery was made when the stern bell was discovered by a group led by Gary Gentile in 1985, according to Silverstein.
The Andrea Doria, which was once considered Italy's flagship, has attracted thousands of divers since 1953, but most only go down one or two times "just to say that they went there,” said Silverstein.
Many consider it the Mount Everest of SCUBA diving because of the remote location and challenging conditions, Silverstein said.
Even among divers in the “core group” who have made multiple trips to the wreck, most only return with a few pieces of china, glassware, or portholes, said Silverstein, who has made 56 dives on the Andrea Doria wreck since 1992.