Divers off N.C. coast go on a high-tech ghost hunt

By Erin James - Hampton Roads

To divers, it looks like a gigantic knife embedded in sand on the ocean floor, dulled and corroded by decades gone by.

The submarine's aptitude for intimidation, including the machine gun still perched on its bow, remains intact nearly 70 years after it sank 10 miles from the Outer Banks coastline.

The bodies of seven men are believed to be inside.

In 1942, U-701 was a German killing machine that entered American waters to wreak havoc on merchant and Navy ships. Before meeting its own demise on July 7, 1942, U-701 attacked and sank at least four Allied vessels.

"It's a sight that would strike fear into any merchant marine's heart," said Evan Kovacs, a scuba diver who photographed the submarine days ago. "It's definitely one of those sights that gets your blood going."

In recent weeks, researchers have gotten a new look at U-701 and other World War II vessels sunk during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Now in its fourth year, an expedition led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is trying to document and photograph the dozens of warships that disappeared below the surface.

Researchers are not planning to raise any of the vessels, largely because many of the underwater sites are military graves.

This summer, researchers are using advanced technology - including a submersible video camera worthy of a Hollywood movie - to find lost ships.

They've narrowed their focus to a 130-square-mile area of the ocean off the southern end of Hatteras Island, believed to be the site of a critical battle between a German submarine and an Allied convoy en route to Florida.

Since the team got started in July, an underwater robot aided by sonar technology has identified 47 sites of interest, at least some of which are likely World War II shipwrecks.

They could also be wrecks of another era, debris, or just big rocks on the ocean floor.

World War II National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Evan Kovacs Outer Banks U-701