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Santa Clarita Man Leads Shipwreck Discovery

A Santa Clarita man led a team of divers on the discovery of a shipwreck more than 70 years old, oceanic officials announced this week.

Seventy years after it was scuttled off the coast of Santa Barbara, the archaeologists found the remains by piecing together the past with old photos.

“It’s pretty significant, because of the whole piecing of the history,” said Shauna Bingham, spokeswoman for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association. “He went out with a group of divers and they used clues to discover the final resting place of the Billings.”

The George E. Billings was a rare schooner -- only of its kind were ever made, Bingham said. The 224-foot-long, five-masted vessel was commissioned to haul lumber around the turn of the 20th century.

Santa Clarita resident Robert Schwemmer, maritime archaeologist for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, said the discovery was a team effort, and it closed a chapter of history.

"The discovery of the Billings is a result of excellent collaboration with the local community," Schwemmer said in  a news statement. "Now we can write the final chapter of not only the largest, but the last sailing vessel built by the Hall Bros. during their 30-year career of designing some of the finest ships sailing the Pacific."  

After it was retired for commercial freight, the Billings was turned into a sport fishing barge, and then scuttled by the owner in 1941.

The wreck was located using research provided by tech-diver Steve Lawson, researcher Gary Fabian, and Patrick Smith with Coastal Maritime Archaeology Resources, according to an NOAA statement.

“This makes the 31st shipwreck that we’ve discovered, but there’s probably about 150 historic shipwrecks or aircrafts that are expected to be wrecked around Channel Islands,” she said, mentioning a known World War II-era Avenger aircraft wreckage that she’d like to see salvaged.

“So there’s still more out there,” Bingham said. “It’s kind of like Robert Shwemmers’ job is never done.”