Tuesday, April 25, 2006

 

SHORING UP MYSTERIES

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Asbury Park Press
By Vince Miller
April 20, 2006


Professional divers discover German submarine

Professional deep-sea divers Richie Kohler and John Chatterton had 360 seventh-graders enthralled at Ocean Township Intermediate School April 7 with stories of their discovery of a World War II German submarine and inspection of the ill-fated Titanic on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Kohler, Brick, and Chatterton, of Harpsbelle, Maine, are known as the Deep Sea Detectives on television's History Channel, and have been consultants for CBS and co-authored the book, "Shadow Divers." Chatterton told the audience the book was on the New York Times' top 10 list and is being printed in many foreign languages as it makes its way around the world.

Principal Larry Kostula opened the program by explaining the original plan was for the divers to talk only to the seventh-grade class of Kohler's daughter, Nicolette, 13. But when Kostula, a scuba diver himself, learned who the divers were, he asked them if he could invite all seventh-graders in the school.

"My career started when I was your age," Kohler said. "It started when I saw on television a man walking on the moon. I decided to become an explorer. Growing up in Brooklyn, there wasn't much opportunity to become an astronaut, so I became an underwater diver and spent the next 25 years diving off New York and New Jersey coasts."

Kohler said in their quest to find virgin shipwrecks, they investigated a boat captain's complaint that his nets were being caught on some object on the bottom. They dove to the bottom and found a German submarine, just 60 miles off Manasquan. That was in 1991.

"We reported the find to the U.S. Navy and the German history office, but neither could tell us anything about the discovery," Kohler said.

There were more dives 230 feet to the bottom during a six-year period. Kohler said he found two bowls with imprinted swastikas, proving it was a

WWII German submarine. On his next dive to take a souvenir bowl, Kohler said he saw a shining object that he thought was the bowl he had sought. It turned out to be a human skull.

"The sub's entire 56-man crew had perished with the U-boat," he said.

Asked if they probed further to find other human body parts, Kohler said, "No. We respected human life and looked no further.

"However, John (Chatterton) later discovered that the sub was the U-869. People don't realize the war was fought right off shore.

"Knowing the sub's identity, we were able to contact some of the victims' families, and they were very grateful to learn their loved ones' fates. They were finally able to make closure on the tragedy," Kohler said.

The divers' next challenge was to investigate the remains of the ill-fated Titanic, which went down in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage.

"Diving isn't just a man's profession," Kohler told his young audience. "There are many excellent female divers, including my wife, Carrie (in the audience)."

Photos she had taken of Titanic dives were used to complement the divers' story.

In response to a question by Paula Franco, 12, Chatterton said passengers on a nearby "ghost ship" that never was identified, thought flares from the sinking Titanic were merely shot into the air by celebrants having a party.

It took the rescue ship, Carpathia, three hours to reach the scene, but by that time 1,500 passengers were in the water.

The pair used two small submersible subs rented from a Russian boat in August 2005 to investigate the Titanic, and in the process found two pieces of steel they said proved the ship had broken apart before sinking, not as previously thought.

Films taken by Carrie Kohler showed that after being submerged 93 years, some written directions on the hull were still quite legible.

Kohler and Chatterton spent a total of 11 hours on each dive, Kohler said.

"It took 2 1/2 hours to drop 12,400 feet to the bottom and five hours to look around before going back up again. It was pretty cramped in one of those 6-foot spheres," he said.

There were many questions from the rapt audience. One came from Kohler's daughter. She asked Chatterton what his emotions were during the dives.

Despite the fact that he "felt very comfortable in the water," Chatterton said he felt fear when diving.

In that vein, another student asked what the divers did to alleviate their concerns.

"We checked all our gear before any dive, and we always made sure there was a backup to help in any emergency," Kohler said.

Chatterton concluded the hourlong program by inspiring the students to "be what you want to be. We believed we could do it. You can do the same thing. You just need the determination and dedication."


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