Washington (CNN) — Wreckage from the USS Lexington — a US aircraft carrier sunk by the Japanese during World War II — has been discovered 500 miles off the Australian coast by a team of explorers led by billionaire Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder announced on Monday.
One of the first US aircraft carriers ever built, the vessel dubbed “Lady Lex” was located at the bottom of the Coral Sea — nearly two miles below the surface — by the expedition crew of Research Vessel Petrel on Sunday, Allen said.
The Lexington was lost in May 1942 along with 216 of its crew and 35 aircraft during what is considered the first carrier battle in history — the Battle of the Coral Sea.
“To pay tribute to the USS Lexington and the brave men that served on her is an honor,” Allen said in a statement. “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.”
Along with the USS Yorktown, the Lexington and its fleet faced off against three Japanese aircraft carriers and is credited with helping to stop Japan’s advances on New Guinea and Australia.
The battle occurred just one month before the US Navy “surprised Japanese forces at the Battle of Midway and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific for good,” according to Allen.
“The Battle of the Coral Sea was notable not only for stopping a Japanese advance but because it was the first naval engagement in history where opposing ships never came within sight of each other,” read the statement from Allen.
US ships were able to rescue more than 2,000 sailors before the Lexington ultimately sank from the damage sustained from a bombardment of Japanese torpedoes.
“As the son of a survivor of the USS Lexington, I offer my congratulations to Paul Allen and the expedition crew of Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel for locating the “Lady Lex,” sunk nearly 76 years ago at the Battle of Coral Sea,” Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris of US Pacific Command said Monday in a statement.
“We honor the valor and sacrifice of the ‘Lady Lex’s’ sailors — all those Americans who fought in World War II — by continuing to secure the freedoms they won for all of us,” he said.CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed reporting