1911 Shipwreck Identified Off Key Largo; Diver Matched Wreck To Shipping Records [VIDEO]

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By Jeff Stone | December 4, 2012 10:49 AM EST

The remains of a 1911 shipwreck off Key Largo, Fla., have been identified after a century of questions have left divers curious. The 315-foot-steel-hulled Hannah M. Bell has always been dismissed as “Mike’s wreck,” as it sits in a popular diving area, but scientists and historians now know its real identity after three years of effort.

ABC News reported the steamship sunk on April 4, 1911, almost exactly a year before the Titanic went down in a field of icebergs over 1,000 miles to the north. The name “Mike’s wreck” came from a popular diving instructor in the area during the 1980s. It was another diving instructor who finally decided to get to the bottom of what happened to the long-forgotten shipwreck.

“I couldn’t believe that, with such a large, well-preserved steel steamship, we weren’t able to connect the history to the wreck site,” teacher Matthew Lawrence said. He would eventually discover that the ship sunk en route to Veracruz, Mexico, but there were no fatalities. The Hannah M. Bell was transporting coal and now lies near a slew of other shipwrecks, some dated around 2011, as well.

“Fishermen probably knew of this wreck and the ones nearby for generations,” Lawrence said. “The rarity is that we were able to ferret out this particular ship’s story from history.

As detectives use forensic information to solve a crime, Lawrence's team compared the dimensions and construction characteristics of the shipwreck with shipping records to solve the mystery, he told WBBH News in Florida.

Before it ran aground about six miles off Key Largo, the Hannah M. Bell made frequent trips across the Atlantic; it was named for the woman who christened her. It sunk quickly because the engine room and holds became flooded.

Lawrence said it was nice to solve a local mystery.

“Measurements of the shipwreck and the records for Hannah M. Bell were virtually identical, as were the reported sinking location and the actual location of the wreck,” he said.

In New York, Hurricane Sandy recently exposed a hull from an even older ship. Built right after the Civil War, it ran aground in the early 1920s and still rests on a beach off Long Island.

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