On the morning of May 26, 1929 the ALEUTIAN was carrying mail, 115 tons of freight, five passengers and 111 crew members as she steamed a course south into Uyak Bay. Sea conditions were calm and visibility was good. The ALEUTIAN was making 14 knots and drafting 21 feet.
Without warning, a tremendous shudder reverberated from the ship’s hull far beneath the waterline. The ALEUTIAN had struck a submerged pinnacle of rock lying unseen just beneath the icy water.
“I stopped the engines and then put her full ahead to beach her,” Captain Gus Nord later testified. “She was sinking so fast that they told me from the engine room they could do nothing on account of the water coming… The vessel was sinking bow first with a heavy port list.”
Shipwreck historian Steve Lloyd resurrected the story of the lost Aleutian in 1998 while researching another Kodiak shipwreck story, the Farallon wreck of 1910. He learned that the steamer was reported to have sunk in very deep water—perhaps 300 feet or greater, and that salvage had never been attempted.
A chart of Uyak Bay shows depths approaching 400 feet near the reported site of the sinking, a depth Lloyd knew would place the wreck effectively out of reach, even for experienced deep-wreck technical divers. From testimony given 70 years earlier, Lloyd reconstructed the bearing, course and speed of the ship in the moments before the ship impacted the hidden pinnacle of rock. Using this information, Lloyd organized a search team that in 2002 utilized side-scan sonar and a magnetometer to search the seafloor in a large V-shaped grid
Mortally injured, the enormous ocean liner settled lower as thousands of tons of seawater rushed through the gash in her hull. The captain gave the order to abandon ship and lifeboats were hastily lowered. Most of the passengers, officers and crew made it off the stricken ALEUTIAN in lifeboats, while others leapt into the water and were plucked out of the swirling maelstrom.
Just seven short minutes after the collision, the ALEUTIAN disappeared beneath the gentle swells of Uyak Bay, a sheen of fuel oil and a mass of floating debris all that remained to mark her grave. An editorial printed the day after the wreck reads, “It seems to have been a case of too large a ship for too small a bay.” The great ship, valued at $1 million in pre-Depression American dollars, would lie hidden and forgotten for more than 73 years.
beginning at the rock that had claimed the liner. Making calculations for the speed of the Aleutian, the state of the tide on the morning of her loss, and a variety of other factors, the searchers located a very large target on the sea floor more than 200 feet below.
Every member of the search group was filled with excitement, but the discovery could not be confirmed until a diver had descended for a visual inspection of the target. Lloyd donned descended into the icy waters of Uyak Bay. There on the bottom, with her masts still standing as if reaching for the light she would never again see, lay the proud steamship Aleutian. On August 14, 2002, Lloyd became the first person to visit the resting liner since that morning 73 years before when she plunged into the depths.