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Shipwreck called the "worst maritime disaster" in Seattle history located over a century later, explorers say

A steamship that sank over a century ago in what's been called the "worst maritime disaster" in Seattle history has been definitively located, a group of underwater explorers announced.

Exploration company Rockfish said Thursday that the wreck of the SS Dix had been identified in Elliott Bay off of Seattle's Alki Point, KIRO Newsradio reported. The roughly 100-foot-long wreck sits upright on the bottom in 600 feet of water, the company said.

Built in 1904, the SS Dix was a steamship that was part of the so-called Mosquito Fleet — small wooden ships that transported passengers in the area before highways and bridges were constructed, according to the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. The boat made 19 round trips daily across Elliott Bay to Alki Point, the society said.

On Nov. 18, 1906, the Dix collided with a much larger steamer called the Jeanie, killing at least 42 passengers who were stuck on the lower deck of the Dix, according to KIRO Newsradio. About 35 people were rescued.

A front-page headline in the Seattle Star on Nov. 19, 1906, declared: "Forty-two lives lost on the wreck on the steamer Dix off Alki Point," adding that women and children were among the victims.

The online forum Shipwreck World and the OceanGate Foundation have called the Dix's sinking "the worst maritime disaster" in Puget Sound and Seattle history.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Dix's fate was sealed when the captain left the wheel to collect tickets from passengers. The ship was then "piloted by a confused and unlicensed ship's mate" and after it slammed into the Jeanie, the Dix "rolled like a log, split in two and sank, all within five minutes," the outlet reported.

"They didn't have a chance," maritime historian John Kelly told the outlet in 2006. "It was a major catastrophe. There hasn't been anything like it since."

"Respected as a grave site"

The site of the wreck was actually first located over a decade ago — unbeknownst to explorers at the time. In 2011, underwater explorers Laura James and Scott Boyd searched for the Dix, and their initial survey of the seafloor located a large object in the area near where the Dix was reported lost, OceanGate said. However, after using 3D sonar scanning equipment, it was determined that the mysterious object was not the ship.

It turned out the object was indeed the Dix — but the explorers were apparently confused by the vessel's orientation on the seafloor, according to Jeff Hummel and Matt McCauley, the men who say they definitively located the ship, according to KIRO Newsradio. The same pair was credited with locating the 1875 wreck of the SS Pacific, a 225-foot steamship that sank off Cape Flattery off Washington's coast.

SS Dix
SS Dix Courtesy of Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society

Hummel, a board member of a nonprofit group called the Northwest Shipwreck Alliance, told KIRO Newsradio that the "aha moment" for identifying the SS Dix actually came in 2015.

"The vessel has a 'canoe stern,' which comes to a point, and so it looks like a bow," Hummel told the station. "So everyone thought that that stern was actually the bow. And so when you compare it to the photos [of the SS Dix] nothing lines up."

"Until you flip it around," Hummel said. "And you realize that the bow, which is kind of crushed a little bit, is what people are calling the stern. And when you do that, you flip it around, then you see that all of the features in the photo, the major structural items all line up perfectly, and it is the Dix."

Hummel told KIRO Newsradio that his team has kept their findings a secret since 2015 and has not retrieved any items from the shipwreck. He said they want to work with state lawmakers to protect the site as a "grave site" for the victims.

"We think that it's important to pay respect to the vessel and the people that have been lost, and we'd like to see some legal mechanism for protecting it," Hummel told KIRO Newsradio. "We'd like to see some sort of permanent legislation enacted by the state legislature to preserve and protect this particular site, and basically make it so it isn't looted in any way and is preserved for the future and just respected as a grave site."

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