The wreck of a United States aircraft carrier which helped to stop the Japanese advance across the Pacific in World War II has been discovered in deep waters 500 miles off Australia’s north-east coast. 

The USS Lexington, or “Lady Lex”, one of America’s first aircraft carriers, was found about 1.7 miles beneath the surface of the Coral Sea after a six-month search led by Paul Allen, a billionaire who co-founded Microsoft. 

The vessel, which fought in the Battle of the Coral Sea – the first ever battle involving aircraft carriers  – was deliberately sunk in May 1942 by another US vessel after taking crippling blows from two Japanese torpedoes and two bombs.

During the four-day battle, 216 crew members aboard the Lexington were killed and went down with the ship and the remaining 2,735 were evacuated before it was sunk to prevent it being captured. The ship is considered a war grave and will not be raised.

The Lexington’s rough location was known but it has not been seen since it sunk 76 years ago.

Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the US military’s Pacific Command and the son of a sailor who was evacuated, paid tribute to Mr Allen and the crew of the Research Vessel  Petrel for their remarkable find.

This handout photograph obtained March 5, 2018 courtesy of Paul G. Allen shows wreckage from the USS Lexington, a US aircraft carrier which sank during World War II, that has been found in the Coral SeaCredit:

"We honour the valour and sacrifice of the Lady Lex’s sailors – and all those Americans who fought in World War II – by continuing to secure the freedoms they won for all of us," he said. “This is our heritage.”

Preserved aircraft could be clearly seen on the seabedCredit:
AFP photo courtesy of Paul G Allen

The four-day battle has been credited with helping to save Australia from a full-scale Japanese invasion.

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Mr Allen’s search missions have discovered numerous wrecks in recent years, assisted by developments in underwater search technology.

Paul Allen Underwater Exploration

His teams have discovered the wreck of the USS Ward, credited with firing America’s first shots in World War II, the Japanese battleship Musashi, and the ship’s bell from the British battle cruiser HMS Hood, which was sunk by the German warship Bismark in 1941.

“As Americans, all of us owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who served and who continue to serve our country for their courage, persistence and sacrifice,” Mr Allen said following the Lexington’s discovery.