By Paul Rogers - Mercury News
Famed oceanographer Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic, the Bismarck, the USS Yorktown and John F. Kennedy's PT-109.
On Tuesday, he added another accomplishment to his list of documenting the world's greatest shipwrecks: the first images in more than six decades of the USS Independence, an iconic World War II aircraft carrier scuttled in 1951 off the California coast, half a mile under the sea.
In a 20-hour-long expedition, Ballard's team, working with officials from the Navy and NOAA -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- revealed breathtaking images of the lost carrier's flight deck, a Hellcat fighter plane, anti-aircraft guns, hatches, ladders and even the letters of the ship's name still visible on the hull, all submerged 30 miles west of Half Moon Bay.
Thousands of viewers in more than 30 countries watched the discoveries live over the Internet.
"What's so wonderful about the wrecks in deeper water, like this ship, the Titanic and the Bismarck, is that they are in amazing states of preservation," Ballard said Tuesday, still at sea.
"There's very little change from when the Navy scuttled it," he said.
"The deep sea is the largest museum on Earth." Ballard, a retired Navy officer, and his organization, the Ocean Exploration Trust, based in Connecticut, plan to build a detailed 3-D digital image of the Independence from the thousands of photographs they took with two unmanned submersibles on Monday and Tuesday.
"It was really nice to read the name on the side," he joked.
"You think, 'Good, I found the right ship'."