It’s long been a mystery why the H.L. Hunley never returned after becoming the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship in 1864, but new research announced Friday may lend credence to one of the theories. Scientists found the eight-man crew of the hand-cranked Confederate submarine had not set the pump to remove water from the crew compartment, which might indicate it was not being flooded.
By Associated Press
That could mean crew members suffocated as they used up air, perhaps while waiting for the tide to turn and the current to help take them back to land.
The new evidence disputes the notion that the Hunley was damaged and took on water after ramming a spar with a charge of black powder into the Union blockade ship Housatonic.
Scientists studying the sub said they’ve found its pump system was not set to remove water from the crew compartment as might be expected if it were being flooded.
The sub, located in 1995 and raised five years later, had a complex pumping system that could be switched to remove water or operateused to submerge and surface.
“It now really starts to point to a lack of oxygen making them unconscious,” said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston and the chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission, formed to raise, conserve and display the sub. “They may have been cranking and moving and it was a miscalculation as to how much oxygen they had.”
In excavating the sub, scientists found little intermingling of the crew remains, indicating members died at their stations. Those bones likely would have been jumbled if the crew tried to make it to the hatches in a desperate attempt to get out.
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