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One of U.S. Navy’s Greatest Mysteries Is Finally Solved — 95 Years Later

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"We hope that this discovery brings the families of its lost crew some measure of closure..."

Nearly 95 years after the U.S. Navy declared the USS Conestoga and its crew lost at sea, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday that it had found and confirmed the ship's location.

For decades, the fates of the 56 men onboard the Conestoga and the whereabouts of the ship itself had been shrouded in mystery. Although the wreckage was discovered in 2009 in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary about 20 miles west of San Francisco, its identity remained unkwown until an investigation was launched in 2014, according to WGHP-TV. The results of that investigation were announced Wednesday as NOAA confirmed the shipwreck to be the remains of the Conestoga.

"After nearly a century of ambiguity and a profound sense of loss, the Conestoga's disappearance no longer is a mystery," NOAA Deputy Administrator Manson Brown said, according to WGHP.

The ship's tragedy began when the Conestoga left San Francisco en route to American Samoa via Pearl Harbor in 1921. But when the Conestoga failed to arrive at Pearl Harbor, an air and sea search followed until both were called off by June 30, 1921, when the ship and its crew were declared "lost," according to WGHP. The only trace the ship left for decades after it went missing was a single lifeboat with the letter "C" printed on its bow that appeared near the coast of Mexico, according to the Huffington Post.

The Conestoga was the last U.S. Navy ship to go missing during peacetime, the Huffington Post noted.

"We hope that this discovery brings the families of its lost crew some measure of closure, and we look forward to working with the Navy to protect this historic shipwreck and honor the crew who paid the ultimate price for their service to the country," Brown said, according to WGHP.

Although it remains unclear exactly why the tugboat went missing in the first place, investigators hypothesized that the Conestoga, while possibly towing a barge, encountered a storm on its journey from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor, WGHP noted. NOAA believes that the tugboat attempted to find refuge at a cove near Southeast Farallon Island.

"This would have been a desperate act, as the approach is difficult and the area was the setting for five shipwrecks between 1858 and 1907," NOAA's report stated. "However, as Conestoga was in trouble and filling with water, it seemingly was the only choice to make."

Follow Kathryn Blackhurst (@kablackhurst) on Twitter

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