The Petrel research vessel is perched at a place in the South Pacific Ocean that was anything but peaceful 77 years ago. It was then the scene of a major battle between the Japanese and Imperial Japanese navies during the Second World War. For the American aircraft carrier, Hornetit would be his last battle.
Researchers revealed that Petrel had found the wreck of the USS Hornet at the end of January – exactly what they were looking for. The ship was found more than 17,000 feet below the surface, at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean, near the Solomon Islands. The USS Hornet is best known for launching the important Doolittle raid in April 1942 and its role in the victory at the Battle of Midway.
Now 95-year-old Richard Nowatzki was an 18-year-old Hornet gunner when enemy planes struck several times, reports CBS News' Mark Phillips.
"When they left, we were dead in the water," Nowatzki said. "They used anti-armor bombs, now, when they come down, you hear them cross bridges … plink, plink, plink, plink … and then, when they explode, the whole ship trembles."
With 140 crew members already dead, the order was given to abandon the ship. The Hornet went to the bottom – three and a half miles below – that the Petrel crew swept with an offshore sonar drone that returns live footage.
Richard Nowatzki survived the Japanese attack on the USS Hornet in 1942. CBS News
The drone has brought back an image of something there that is about the right size and in the right place. It was like him but a lot of ships came down here. To be sure, they needed a positive identification, which they got by seeing Hornet's naval designation: CV-8.
"CBS This Morning" was able to share the real-time discovery with Richard Nowatzki in California – even finding the gun he was wearing during the attack.
"If you go down to my locker, there's 40 dollars in it, you can have it!" Plaisanta Nowatzki.
Nowatzki has had a long life since that day. Seeing the Hornet again and the testimonies of the men who served – a jacket hanging from a hatch, a toiletry kit for a person with a toothbrush – naturally made him think of those who had not been so lucky.
"I know I've been a very lucky man," he said. "The fact that you can find these ships is mind-boggling for me … I want to thank you for having honored me this way."
But it was the crew of Petrel who had the honor of finding the Hornet and the resting place of so many brave crews. Another wreck, and in turn, another war grave was discovered. Its exact location is kept secret to protect it, but memory now has a place and the loss has a memorial.