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Washington salvage company discovers location of famous shipwreck nearly 150 years later

In November of 1875 the steamship S-S Pacific was traveling from Seattle to San Francisco when it collided with another ship. It is believed that 325 people died.

NEAH BAY, Wash. — A salvage company in Washington has located wreckage from one of the deadliest maritime disasters in Northwest history off Cape Flattery near the Neah Bay.

The sonar images are unmistakable to the trained eye. They show a shipwreck more than 1,000-feet deep off the Washington coast. 

In November of 1875 the steamship S-S Pacific was traveling from Seattle to San Francisco when it collided with a large sailing ship in the dark of night.

"It had a major impact on the Northwest. It was the first ship that was carrying passengers on a regularly scheduled service between Seattle and San Francisco," underwater recovery expert Jeff Hummel said.

Current estimates put the number of passengers at 325 people, but there were probably more. Only two people survived.

Also on board were tons of oats and hops, hides, 230 tons of coal, and a substantial amount of gold.

Credit: BC Archives

Jeff Hummel has been exploring Northwest waters since the 80s and his love of history has driven him to search for Pacific. It was an endeavor that 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. Twelve missions later, they've identified the wreck. They initially found two circle depressions that turned out to be the distinctive paddle wheels from 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. 

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," he said. 

Hummel says the plan is to build a local museum to display parts of the ship and some personal items that will tell the stories of the people on board.

Salvage and preservation efforts are expected to take several years.

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