Paul Allen isn't known to be an eccentric billionaire, but he does have a few intriguing hobbies. After co-founding Microsoft, Allen has become known as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and megayacht owner. He has opened a brain research center in Seattle and has launched an underwater exploration division, dedicated to locating ships lost during World War II. Inspired by his father’s service in the U.S. Army, Allen has preserved a large number of vintage aircraft at his museum in Everett, Washington. Several years ago he shifted his focus from preserving planes to finding lost naval vessels. Having found and documented nearly 50 ships over the past several years, his team crossed another find off the list a few days ago.
On March 4, 2018, Allen's private research vessel, Petrel, slipped her Remus 6000 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle into the waters of Australia's Coral Sea in search of the USS Lexington. Lexington was one of the first aircraft carriers ever built for the navy, having been commissioned on December 14, 1925. She was spared the attack on Pearl Harbor by being away from port. Lexington was heavily active in the first few months of the U.S. involvement in the Pacific theater. On May 8, 1942, after she had suffered hits from several bombs and torpedoes that had incapacitated her, the surviving crew were forced to abandon ship. The Battle of the Coral Sea killed 216 of Lexington’s crew, though 2,770 crew members (including the captain and his dog, ship's mascot, Wags) were successfully evacuated from the carrier before she was scuttled.
Petrel's Remus AUV descended nearly two miles below the surface before she discovered the wreckage. Allen's research team uses historical data and reported positioning from the other vessels in the area to narrow the search area. Lexington, as well as nearly a dozen of her aircraft, were found spread out across a square mile of the ocean floor.
After the wreckage field was mapped, Petrel launched its ROV in order to capture video and images of the site. Petrel is the only privately owned research vessel that can explore to depths of 6,000-meters.
Paul Allen started searching for World War II wrecks in the Pacific in 2015, after initially outfitting his megayacht, Octopus, with ROVs, AUVs, and mini-submarines. The first major undertaking was to survey the “Iron Bottom Sound” where his research crew located 29 vessels lost during the war. Allen purchased Petrel in 2016 and had an extensive retrofitting undertaken in early 2017 to meet his teams’ needs as a research platform.
Since launching Petrel, Allen’s underwater research team has discovered an additional 14 lost warships, including the USS Indianapolis, USS Ward, USS Cooper, and several Japanese warships. The crew of Petrel seeks to locate, research, survey, and explore these historic finds. Included on each mission are local historians and scientists to help provide context and to identify the wrecks. Artifacts are rarely removed from wrecks unless requested by the warships' government to respect the wreck as a naval war gravesite.