June 16, 2005

USS Arizona Deterioration Said Unavoidable

HONOLULU (AP) -- A team of divers is collecting information that will help experts determine how fast the sunken USS Arizona is deteriorating.

The battleship sank on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which drew the United States into World War II. The remains of more than 1,100 crewmen remain entombed in the sunken wreckage, which is spanned by the USS Arizona Memorial.

"Collapse in inevitable but by all indications, it is not imminent. It could be decades," said Matthew Russell, an underwater archaeologist who is heading the six-member team.

Preliminary data indicates the ship suffered more damage when it was bombed than was previously thought. But despite the damage, the wreckage is holding up well and corrosion is slower than expected, he said.

The team's findings will give officials of the National Park Service, which operates the memorial, the information they need "to make decisions about when and if to intervene in the Arizona's natural deterioration," Russell said.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and other military bases on Oahu lasted two hours. Twenty-one ships were sunk or heavily damaged, and 320 aircraft were damaged or destroyed. In all, 2,390 people were killed and 1,178 wounded.

Russell said the fact the battleship is a war grave is never far from the divers' minds.

"The galley area is in the midship. There are bowls, a cooking pot. The leather sole of someone's boot. It isn't easy to look at those things," Russell said. "It's not like any other place on earth. It's sacred."


On the Net:

USS Arizona Memorial: http://www.nps.gov/usar/