WWI mystery solved with discovery of AE1

By on 9 January, 2018

HMAS AE1 off the coast of Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, December 22 2017. Image copyright Commonwealth of Australia.

Australia’s first naval submarine has been discovered 103 years after wartime disappearance.

The HMAS AE1 disappeared with all hands off the coast of Papua New Guinea on September 14, 1914. The wreck’s discovery in late December 2017 brings closure to one of Australia’s oldest maritime mysteries, and reveals the final resting place of the submarine’s 35-strong crew.

An object of interest was located from the survey vessel Fugro Equator on December 19 and further inspection confirmed that it was AE1.

The sea floor was scanned with a multibeam echosounder mounted on the hull of Fugro Equator and also aboard the Echo Surveyor 5 AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle), which operated at a constant altitude of 35 metres, through strong undersea currents and the complex terrain of the search area, which was located between two land masses.

Sonar scan shows HMAS AE1 on the sea floor off Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. Image copyright Commonwealth of Australia.

The resulting 1-metre resolution images provided confidence that positive identification of targets could be made. Following analysis of the data, unusual features were catalogued, assessed and prioritised for additional detailed investigation that included AUV and drop camera operations. The first images captured show the vessel is remarkably well preserved and apparently in one piece.

Following the discovery of the submarine, a small commemorative service was conducted onboard the Fugro Equator to remember the crew, made up of 35 Australian, New Zealand and British sailors. Efforts are being made to contact the descendants of the crew.

Twelve previous attempts to locate AE1 by private and government entities were unsuccessful.

The search party was jointly funded by the Australian Government, the Silentworld Foundation, The Australian National Maritime Museum and Find AE1 Ltd.

The first images captured show the WWI submarine is remarkably well preserved and apparently in one piece. Image copyright Commonwealth of Australia.

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