Underwater mystery solved: Crews make surprising discovery in Lake Erie

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CLEVELAND-- Since its discovery in 1992, the wreckage of a schooner 20 miles north of Cleveland in Lake Erie has never really been positively identified.

Located under about 70 feet of water, the wreckage was believed for years to be that of the Mackinaw.

But in 2013, the National Museum of the Great Lakes, in cooperation with divers of​ the Cleveland Underwater Explorers (CLUE), decided to take a closer look at the urging of diver Rob Rietschle, who discovered the site.

CLUE Director and chief underwater archeologist David VanZandt was among those exploring the wreck.

"When we came down the first time, we came down the starboard rail and we were swimming toward the bow and all of a sudden there's no rail or anything else and you see this big gash that's going half, over halfway across the ship and it's very narrow and you could tell that right at the starboard side it's flared out a little wider. You could see this knife gash going through the schooner," said VanZandt, explaining the damage was indicative of a collision with another ship.

Divers returned in 2014 taking measurements and taking a closer look at the collision damage.

After examining the damage, the length of the wreck, the location of the wreck, the type of shipwreck, it was compared with the Mackinaw.

"The Mackinaw was in a different location, was longer than what we measured and everything else; so we came to the conclusion that it was the Plymouth and not the Mackinaw," said VanZandt.

The Plymouth was a two-masted schooner that was built in Huron, Ohio.

It was taking a load of wheat and flour to Buffalo when it was hit by the side-wheel steamer 'Northern Indiana' at about 1:00 a.m. on June 23, 1852.

VanZandt said his examination of the wreckage shows the 'Northern Indiana,' which was travelling about 17 miles per hour at the time, just about sliced the schooner in half.

"There's still a cargo hold. We know even though it sank in ten minutes, we know it sank pretty slowly because there's still an iron strap going across the cargo hold that would have held a canvass cover which would cover that hatch," said VanZandt.

All ten crew members of the Plymouth survived.