POINT PLEASANT, N.J. -- Divers who visited a wreck site 230 feet under the Atlantic expected to find only a sunken barge or a pile of construction debris.
Instead, they found a World War II-era German submarine with live torpedoes and china marked with the Nazi swastika.
But the U-boat is a historical puzzle, the first diver to visit the wreck said Thursday. The nearest known sinkings were more than 100 miles away.
'The submarine doesn't exist,' John Chatterton said.
A group of New Jersey scuba divers discovered the U-boat on Labor Day. Bill Nagle, captain of the dive boat Seeker, said he knew from fishing boat captains that something was on the Atlantic Ocean bottom 65 miles off Point Pleasant but expected to find only a sunken barge or a pile of rocks.
Exploration has been slow and has already cost one life. Divers can only remain on the wreck for 15 or 20 minutes before beginning a slow trip to the surface with stops for decompression.
'There are very few people who have seen this,' Nagle said.
At that depth, visibility is limited to about 30 feet at best and is even less inside the wreck, especially when divers begin disturbing the debris.
Chatterton and Nagle decided to go public with their discovery this week, hoping that veterans of anti-submarine warfare during World War II can shed some light on the sinking.
The sub is almost intact, Chatterton said, although the oak walls of the crew quarters have fallen in and the conning tower is lying next to the control room on the sand. But divers have found signs of heavy damage by depth charges.
The group checked with experts on U-boat operations off the East Coast of the United States and with military authorities. The nearest recorded sinkings are more than 100 miles away, one near Nantucket and the other offNorth Carolina.
'We're not going to know until we find something on it with a number,' Nagle said. 'We have to come up with a hull number or something where we can go back to the records.'
Divers said the sub appears to have been a wartime casualty, not a captured U-boat used for target practice by the U.S. Navy after the war. The Navy would have removed the torpedoes and almost anything small would also have been taken out.
'The Navy guys would take anything with a swastika as souvenirs,' Chatterton said.
The sub's depth puts it at the absolute limit of ordinary scuba diving and too deep for any but the most experienced divers. One explorer, Steven Feldman, died during the second dive, blacking out while he was preparing to return to the surface.
Divers have found no trace of the boat's crew, although some of the remains could be buried in the wreckage of their quarters. Some hatches are open, a possible sign of an emergency escape.
But the submarine may have been depth-charged more than once, as Navy crews picked the wreck up on sonar, Chatterton said.
Nagle hopes to make at least one more trip this year. But most exploration will have to wait until next summer.