Washington search crew discovers site of 147-year-old Gold Rush era shipwreck that claimed over 300 lives

Only 2 passengers out of more than 300 survived when the S.S. Pacific sank in 1875

Researchers have discovered the shipwreck site of one of the deadliest maritime disasters in the history of the Pacific Northwest and are releasing details of the almost 150-year-old find.

Maritime archeologists with the group Rockfish Inc. say they have found the shipwreck of the S.S. Pacific which sank in November 1875 and claimed more than 300 lives and is believed to have left only two survivors, Fox 13 Seattle reported.

The ship left Olympia early in the morning on Nov. 4, 1875, and made several stops picking up several wealthy passengers related to the Pacific Northwest gold rush of the 1870s. Researchers believe that valuable artifacts, including gold, could be hidden in the wreckage.

"One of the two survivors his bunk was right at the point of impact, he said it was gushing in and 20 minutes, 30 minutes later the ship was on the bottom," Jeff Hummel of Rockfish Inc. told the outlet about the wreck which occurred after a "mid-water collision" off the coast of Cape Flattery.

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S.S. Pacific

S.S. Pacific (Fox 13 Seattle)

Eyewitness accounts of the wreck, which many have attempted to locate over the years, detail a terrifying ordeal when passengers were trampled during the panic on board, and lifeboats were inoperable after they had been filled with water to balance the steam powered ship. 

Hummel says the team of more than 40 people, which operated alongside the Northwest Shipwreck Alliance, spent countless hours and over $2 million on 12 expeditions between 2017 and 2022 trying to locate the wreck and was ultimately successful after studying locations where fishermen found coal in their nets while trawling for fish

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S.S. Pacific shipwreck site

S.S. Pacific shipwreck site (Fox 13 Seattle)

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That information, paired with decades of archival research that was complicated by a historically violent storm hitting the region around the time the ship went down, helped the team pinpoint a location roughly 40 miles south of Cape Flattery and 23 miles offshore.

The team created two remotely-operated vehicles that took side-scan sonar images, which they later confirmed with optical cameras, to identify the ship and the crew's hopes the "world-class find" will yield anything from unopened wine bottles, clothing made oof leather or wool, and other artifacts that will help tell the story of those who perished on board.

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Dried wood from S.S. Pacific shipwreck

Dried wood from S.S. Pacific shipwreck (Fox 13 Seattle)

"It looks so different than anyone ever expected," Hummel said. "Initially, it looks like the wrong size, shape and everything. You slowly work through using the robots, imaging things and looking at it that eventually we realized: ‘Oh wait, that is the ship.’ It took a while."

The next step in the process will be recovering items on board the ship which is work the crew says will begin in 2023 or 2024. 

"We believe the wreck to be in a state of incredible preservation and hope to find a wide variety of artifacts from bottles of wine to leather boots to wool clothing," Phil Drew of the Northwest Shipwreck Alliance told Fox News Digital. "There are records of the Express Cargo on board including gold from the Cassiar Mining District of northern British Columbia. There's still years of hard work ahead to excavate the wreck, taking the appropriate care to recover and preserve artifacts. Stay tuned!"