Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Saturday, 14 June 2008 13:07 UK

Divers find 1780 British warship

Wreck of HMS Ontario
HMS Ontario had as many as 130 people on board when it sank

Deep sea divers have found the wreck of a Royal Navy warship which sank during the American Revolution.

The discovery of HMS Ontario, at the bottom of one of the Great Lakes on the US-Canada border, has been hailed an "archaeological miracle".

The 22-gun, 80ft (24.4m) vessel, with an estimated 130 men on board, went down in Lake Ontario in a gale in 1780.

The ship is now being treated as a war grave and there are no plans to raise it or remove any of its artefacts.

Shipwreck enthusiasts Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville have revealed how they used side-scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible to find the ship earlier this month.

To have a revolutionary war vessel that's practically intact is unbelievable
Arthur Britton Smith
Canadian author

They claim HMS Ontario is the oldest confirmed shipwreck and the only fully-intact British warship to have ever been found in the North American Great Lakes.

Canadian author Arthur Britton Smith, who chronicled the history of HMS Ontario in the 1997 book The Legend of the Lake, described the find as an "archaeological miracle".

"To have a revolutionary war vessel that's practically intact is unbelievable," he told the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

'Beautiful ship'

Mr Scoville told AP that, although the vessel went down in a huge storm, it had still managed to "stay intact".

"There are even two windows that aren't broken. Just going down, the pressure difference can break the windows. It's a beautiful ship," he said.

The vessel is currently sitting in an area of the lake where the water is up to 500ft (152m) deep and can only be reached by the most experienced divers.

Drawing of HMS Ontario by Arthur Britton Smith
A drawing by Arthur Britton Smith shows how the ship would have looked

However, Mr Kennard and Mr Scoville, who have been hunting for the ship for three years, have refused to give its exact location, saying only that it was found off the southern shore.

The pair believe the cold, fresh water of the lake has acted as a preservative - with the lack of light and oxygen slowing decomposition - ensuring the ship has stayed intact.

HMS Ontario is considered one of the few "Holy Grail" shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and for many years divers and shipwreck hunters have searched for the vessel without success.

Official records quoted by the team of explorers show HMS Ontario went down on 31 October 1780 with a garrison of 60 British soldiers and a crew of about 40, mostly Canadians. There could also have been up to 30 American prisoners of war on board.

There are about 4,700 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, with approximately 500 in Lake Ontario.

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