A private dive team exploring the waters off south-central Alaska has discovered the oldest American shipwreck ever found in the state, officials said Monday.
The Torrent sank 139 years ago in Cook Inlet after tidal currents, among the world's most powerful, rammed it into a reef south of the Kenai Peninsula. Documents from the period show that all 155 people on board survived.
The US had purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million in 1867, less than a year earlier, and about 130 US Army soldiers had come north on the Torrent to build the first US military fort in south-central Alaska, now the state's most populous region.
"It's a very significant find because it's right after the purchase, during the transition from Russian to American authority," said Judy Bittner, a state historic preservation officer. "It's the very beginning of federal presence in Alaska and the establishment of order."