- A group of friends and amateur divers solved one of WWII's most enduring mysteries in June 2018.
- The New England-based Nomad Exploration Team found the USS Eagle 56, a patrol boat sunk by a German submarine just five miles off the coast of Maine .
- The wreck was classified as an act of war by the US Navy, but the boat was never found and remained a mystery before the Nomad team became involved.
- Business Insider talked to two crew members – a meat truck driver and a criminal commander – about the discovery.
- Visit the Business Insiders homepage for more stories.
The USS Eagle 56 was just five miles off the coast of Maine when it exploded.
The First World War patrol boat split in two and then slid beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. Eagle 56 had carried a crew of 62. Rescuers pulled 1
The US Navy classified the disaster as an accident, attributing the sinking to an explosion in the boiler room. In 2001, that order was changed to reflect the loss as a deliberate act of war, perpetuated by the German submarine U-853, a submarine belonging to Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine.
Despite the Navy's attempt to clarify the circumstances surrounding the shipwreck, Eagle 56 became a mystery. The ship had sunk relatively close to land, but the work of locating the wreck was useless for decades. No one could find Eagle 56, a small patrol ship that had come so close to making it back home.
Then a group of friends and amateur divers decided to try to find the wreck in 2014. After years of fruitless dives and intensive research, New England-based Nomad Exploration Team located Eagle 56 with success in June 2018.
Business Insider spoke to two crew members – meat truck driver Jeff Goodreau and Massachusetts Correction Officer Donald Ferrara – about their discovery.
Goodreau and Ferrara, along with crewmates Ryan King, Danny Allan, Bob Foster, Nate Garrett, Josh Cummings and Mark Bowers, are featured in "The Hunt for Eagle 56", a Smithsonian Channel documentary airing at 9 PM Sunday September 22.
Goodreau works as a meat truck driver in Massachusetts. But diving has been his passion since he was 18, after his employer hosted a variety of diving excursions.
"I was hooked from the first dive," Goodreau said. "It was really cool. I found out that early shipwrecks are what I'm supposed to do. I really think that's what I was put here to find a shipwreck."
Ferrara said he was first sucked into a diving world by watching the famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau on TV, as a child.
Goodreau described becoming interested in pursuing "deeper and darker" dives as time went on; or, as Ferrara puts it, "crazy and stupid" underwater adventure. They were immersed in the world of technical diving, which the National Association of Underwater Instructors defines as "a form of diving that exceeds the typical recreational boundaries imposed by depth and immersion time (bottom time)."
King, Allan and Goodreau first teamed up to find Eagle 56 in 2014. The rest of the crew came together in subsequent years. Eagle 56 was an obvious choice for the Nomad team.
"I'm a loss nerd, always been," Goodreau said. "Eagle 56 was always lost to find. It was New England's great ghost. Many people looked for it. Nobody could find it."
But Eagle 56 never came to be an easy find. Goodreau described the seabed north of Cape Cod as a maze of rocky mountains and canyons. Eagle 56 was a "fairly small" boat. And although the crew did not know it at the time, it was placed in a ditch.
Read more : Meet the Navy veteran who hit the beaches in Normandy on June 6, 1944, and then went island hopping in the Pacific
"It's like the equivalent of dropping a soda canyon and taking a blindfold and go and find it because you can't just look down and see it, "Goodreau said. "The visibility is 10 feet. It's light black."
Even worse, the crew's expensive magnetometer ended up being something of a bust, thanks to the subsea terrain.
"It turns out that the rocks outside Maine are not only big, they're full of iron," Goodreau said.
Again and again, the crew would end a summer diving season empty-handed. They spent the winters intensely reading up on the sink, trying to map the ship's coordinates. That the research had an unintended side effect.
"You get to know some of these guys," said Goodreau, of Eagle 56 crew.
Ferrara added that he, as a Marine veteran, feels an affinity for the crew members who died in the attack. He said most of the men on board were quite young.
"They were lost for 73 years," he said.
But the team persisted in the search and eventually found the wreck in June 2018. Goodreau and Ferrara say that as a result, they have become acquainted with many relatives of the lost crew members.
Nomad team members were even invited to the July 2019 Purple Heart ceremony for Seaman 1st Class James Cunningham, who died in Eagle 56 sinks. Cunningham was 21 years old at the sinking. Goodreau and Ferrara say that Cunningham came from a family of Tennessee snipers and that he enlisted in the Navy when he was 18. Cunningham sent them his paychecks for the Navy so they could buy a house, a property the family still owns today .
Unfortunately, a group that the Nomad team will never be able to share its discovery with the 13 survivors of sinking. They are all dead.
"Some of the survivors were engineers," Goodreau said. "Someone went to the graves and felt that people blamed them for the explosion."
The nomadic diving team will now search for the torpedo that took down Eagle 56. In the meantime, they will remain cautious as they dive into the area where the ship sank.
"You won't disturb them," Ferrara said. "You will be very respectful when you are there."