When Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue back in 1492, his largest of the three-ship fleet, the Santa Maria, was grounded and left in the Caribbean. After more than 500 years, explorers think they’ve found the historic ship off the coast of Haiti.

A painting of Columbus on the Santa Maria. (Image source: Emanuel Leutze/ Wikimedia)

A painting of Columbus on the Santa Maria. (Image source: Emanuel Leutze/ Wikimedia)

“All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus’ famous flagship, the Santa Maria,” lead explorer on the expedition Barry Clifford told the U.K. newspaper the Independent.

At this point, the area where Clifford thinks the Santa Maria lies has been measured, photographed and reviewed in reconnaissance dive. This information, according to the Independent, corresponds with details in Columbus’ diary.

According to CNN, evidence of the wreck is only 10 to 15 feet deep on a coral reef.

“It is the Mount Everest of shipwrecks for me,” the 68-year-old explorer told CNN. “This ship changed the course of human history.”

Here’s more from the Independent about the promising discovery:

The site is also an exact match in terms of historical knowledge about the underwater topography associated with the loss of the Santa Maria. The local currents are  also consistent with what is known historically about the way the vessel drifted immediately prior to its demise.

The footprint of the wreck, represented by the pile of ship’s ballast, is also exactly what one would expect from a vessel the size of the Santa Maria.

Using marine magnetometers, side-scan sonar equipment and divers, Mr. Clifford’s team has, over several years, investigated more than 400 seabed anomalies off the north coast of Haiti and has narrowed the search for the Santa Maria down to the tiny area where the wreck, which the team thinks may well be Columbus’ lost vessel, has been found.

The anchor thought to be from the Santa Maria in a Haitian museum. (Image source: Sean Clowes/Wikimedia)

The anchor thought to be from the Santa Maria in a Haitian museum. (Image source: Sean Clowes/Wikimedia)

During a recent dive to the site to confirm evidence taken in photos more than a decade ago, Clifford’s team found some of the wreck looted of key objects that could have made definitive identification of the ship easier.

Clifford said the Haitian government has been helpful leading up to the discovery and noted that it would be integral as the excavation of the site continues.

“I am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbus’ discovery of America,” Clifford told the Independent.

If confirmed as the Santa Maria, Clifford thinks parts of the ship could be saved and brought to the surface where they could be preserved and put on display.

(H/T: Gizmodo)