1,500 World War II-era shells found

Divers have found a cache of roughly 1,500 live ammunition more than 50 yrs old.

Updated: Oct 26, 2010, 10:18 AM IST

New York: A team of divers claimed to have found a cache of roughly 1,500 live ammunition scattered in a bay here more than 50 years ago following an accident.

Scattered under only 20 feet of water were eight World War II-era copper artillery shells designed to shoot down airplanes, and about 1,500 large-caliber machine-gun shells designed to explode on contact, New York Post reported.

The Post joined the four-member divers` crew last week to search for artefacts in the murky waters off the former Fort Lafayette, an island near Bay Ridge which was destroyed in 1960 to pave the way for the construction of the New York City bridge.

"What a find!" shouted diver Gene Ritter as he climbed aboard the vessel. "They`re all over the place. Hundreds of them."

Experts believe the ammunition came from the stockpile of 14,470 live rounds that splashed into the bay March 4, 1954, when aircraft carrier USS Bennington unloaded the firepower onto a barge tied to its side. But the barge broke free during a violent storm, overturned and drifted six miles.

"Unless there was an undocumented accident in the bay, what we found has to be from the Bennington," Ritter was quoted as saying.

Experts said the ammunition could be dangerous to anyone who tries to move it - or to any ship that goes off course into shallow waters and scrapes the sea floor.

A navy spokesman said the divers should call local authorities.

In a 2008 letter to then Rep. Vito Fossella, then assistant secretary of the Navy B.J. Penn claimed "all but 10" of the Bennington`s munitions were eventually recovered by divers.

He said no records exist regarding other lost munitions in the bay but "it can not be concluded that such losses did not occur".

However, newspaper reports ten months after the Bennington mishap indicate the navy divers were having a hard time finding the lost shells - and that nearly 14,000 were still missing.