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Two N.J. divers find historic Andrea Doria bell at famous shipwreck site

By Grace Chung, The Star-Ledger – This story appeared this morning in NJ Star-Ledger and is of particular interest to wreck divers and the entire diving community.

Two New Jersey divers sent waves throughout the wreck-diving community with the discovery of what is believed to the “crows nest bell” from the historic shipwreck of the Andrea Doria, the luxury Italian ocean liner that sunk in 1953 off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Earnest Rookey, of Jackson, and Carl Bayer, of Hillsborough, were part of of an expedition team diving on the wreck when the made the find 240 feet below the ocean’s surface. Both men were diving the Andrea Doria for the first time as last minute fill-ins on the expedition after two other crew members dropped out.2

“This is an incredibly significant find,” said expedition group leader, Joel Silverstein, of Arizona. “Think of it like finding a needle in a haystack.”

The bell, which weighs about 75lbs and stands two feet tall, is one of the few artifacts which has the ship’s name engraved on it.

The last major discovery was made when the stern bell was discovered by a group led by Gary Gentile in 1985, according to Silverstein.

The Andrea Doria, which was once considered Italy’s flagship, has attracted thousands of divers since 1953, but most only go down one or two times “just to say that they went there,” said Silverstein. Many consider it the Mount Everest of SCUBA diving because of the remote location and challenging conditions, Silverstein said.

Even among divers in the “core group” who have made multiple trips to the wreck, most only return with a few pieces of china, glassware, or portholes, said Silverstein, who has made 56 dives on the Andrea Doria wreck since 1992.

“These were well-skilled divers who were in the right place at the right time,” Silverstein said of Rookey and Bayer’s find. “The Andrea Doria is one of the toughest, hardest dives you can do. Getting to it alone is challenging.”

To view the entire story with photos, go to Andria Doria Expedition STAR-LEDGER COVERAGE

It takes 12 to 14 hours to reach the Andrea Doria’s location 55 miles off the coast of Nantucket.

“Whenever you’re that far out in the ocean, you’re facing a lot of unknowns,” said Silverstein. Weather is unpredictable and fierce currents can make it difficult for even an experienced diver to reach the ship.

The bell found by Rookey and Bayers is thought to be the “crows nest bell” because of the location of its discovery. The two men found the bell when they spotted a small part of it sticking out of the sand.

“This is an important find for the whole team,” said Silverstein, “It wouldn’t have been possible if we were not all in it together in the right place at the right time.”

To view a gallery of the photos from the expedition, click here: ANDRIA DORIA GALLERY

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