USS Conestoga at San Diego in January 1921. Courtesy Naval Historical Center
USS Conestoga at San Diego in January 1921. Courtesy Naval Historical Center

The wreckage of a San Diego-based seagoing tug, missing for 95 years, has been identified by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, solving one of the Navy’s greatest mysteries.

NOAA on Wednesday announced the identification of the wreckage of the USS Conestoga in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off San Francisco.

The seagoing fleet tugboat had disappeared with 56 officers and sailors aboard, leaving no trace and only a cryptic radio message about high seas.

“After nearly a century of ambiguity and a profound sense of loss, the Conestoga’s disappearance no longer is a mystery,” said Deputy NOAA Administrator Manson Brown. “We hope that this discovery brings the families of its lost crew some measure of closure and we look forward to working with the Navy to protect this historic shipwreck and honor the crew who paid the ultimate price for their service to the country.”

On March 25, 1921, the Conestoga departed San Francisco en route to American Samoa via Pearl Harbor. When it failed to reach Hawaii, the Navy mounted a massive air and sea search. Nearly two months later, a merchant vessel found a battered lifeboat with the letter “C” on its bow off the Mexican coast.

For months, the ship’s mysterious disappearance gripped newspapers across the country. It was the last Navy ship to be lost without a trace in peacetime.

A NOAA survey ship found unidentified wreckage in 2009 in 189 feet of water, three miles off Southeast Farallon Island. A remotely-controlled underwater vehicle later took video, which the Navy used to identify the Conestoga.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.