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USS Indianapolis: The Final Chapter

Airs Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Saturday, Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. on KPBS 2

John Woolsten and Rob Kraft looking at Indy wreck footage together, talking.

Credit: Courtesy of Vulcan Productions/A Paul G. Allen Expedition

Above: John Woolsten and Rob Kraft looking at Indy wreck footage together, talking.

“USS Indianapolis: The Final Chapter” is a scientific detective story detailing the discovery of the USS Indianapolis wreck site under the Philippine Sea, while revealing the riveting history of the ill-fated ship and its final voyage.

The ship’s sinking during World War II marks the largest loss of life in U.S. Naval history, with only 316 of nearly 1,200 sailors surviving the attack.

The tragic end of the Indianapolis and the location of her remains have been shrouded in mystery for more than seven decades, until now.

The documentary follows Paul G. Allen’s expedition team aboard his research vessel Petrel, as they search the remote Philippine Sea and uncover the well-preserved wreckage of the Indianapolis nearly 18,000 feet beneath the surface.

Preview | USS Indianapolis: The Final Chapter

Follow a scientific detective story detailing the discovery of the USS Indianapolis wreck site three and a half miles below the Philippine Sea. The ship’s sinking in the final days of WWII was the largest loss of life in US Naval history, and the harrowing survival story of 316 sailors drifting in failing life preservers is legendary.

Audiences are in for a rare, high-definition look underwater with the help of state-of-the-art technology used in the search, including an autonomous underwater vehicle used to scan the crushing depths of the sea floor.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Vulcan Productions/A Paul G. Allen Expedition

Control room while everyone is working on research vessel Petrel.

By combining never-before-seen archival footage and CGI with the moving accounts of the few remaining survivors and the testimony of historians, “USS Indianapolis: The Final Chapter” reconstructs the ship’s dramatic final moments.

The Search for Indianapolis Hits a Snag

The crew of R/V Petrel has mapped out the area of the Philippine Sea where they will search for the Indianapolis. On the second run of their Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, they discover an object that looks like a ship, but it isn’t clear if it’s Indy. They decide to send the Remotely Operated Vehicle to get a closer look, but run into a potentially mission ending mechanical issue in the process.

Woven throughout the film is the story of Captain Charles Butler McVay III, who survives the sinking of his ship only to face a Navy court-martial – the only captain in U.S. history convicted for losing his ship in wartime.

In the waning days of WWII, the cruiser USS Indianapolis had just delivered “Little Boy” – the atomic bomb destined for Hiroshima – and sailed off to join the Allied invasion force.

The captain of the ship, Charles Butler McVay III, was eager to arrive in Leyte in order to begin training his inexperienced crew.

After the U.S. deciphered Japanese communication codes, the Navy knew there would be enemy submarines along McVay’s route -- that warning, however, did not get to McVay in time and he sailed off without an escort.

On the dark and cloudy night of July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis sailed with no lights on to avoid being seen. For a moment, just after midnight, the clouds parted and Indianapolis was spotted, alone and vulnerable.

Torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the middle of the Philippine Sea, she sank within minutes, taking 300 of her crew down with her.

Putting All of the Pieces Together

The final resting place of the USS Indianapolis has remained a mystery for over 70 years. The deck logs went down with her when she sank and the survivors weren’t able to provide any useful information either. To have any hope in finding Indianapolis, the crew of the R/V Petrel need to pull together all of the clues they can find to help narrow the search.

The remaining 900 survivors drifted for four and a half days, battling the sun, thirst, sharks, and their own fear.

It was a disaster that owes as much to bureaucratic snafus as it does to enemy action: the Navy lost track of the ship and failed to mount a search. It was only by chance that a passing plane happened to spot the survivors and only 316 of the nearly 1,200 original crew were pulled from the sea alive.

In 1968, Captain McVay committed suicide, sparking a campaign by his loyal crew to clear his name – a campaign joined by the captain of a nuclear submarine who risks his own career to right the injustice.

Watch On Your Schedule:

This film will be available to stream on demand after broadcast for a limited time.

Join The Conversation:

PBS is on Facebook, Instagram and you can follow @PBS on Twitter. #USSIndianapolisPBS


Produced by Vulcan Productions and Lone Wolf Media for PBS. Executive produced by the late Paul G. Allen, who was Chairman at Vulcan Productions and funded the expedition to locate the USS Indianapolis. Additionally from Vulcan Productions, the show is executive produced by Rocky Collins and Carole Tomko. Bill Margol is executive in charge for PBS. Directed by Kirk Wolfinger for Lone Wolf Media.


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