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Explorers seek funds to tell submarine’s story

MIAMI — A team of New York-based explorers took Helen Cashell Baldwin out in their research vessel off the coast of Key West, Fla., last summer. More than 600 feet below lay the wreckage of a World War II submarine — the final resting place of her father and 41 fellow sailors.

Baldwin, 78, threw a rose into the water and whispered her father’s name. She did the same for each of the men who died when the submarine USS R-12 sank during a training mission on June 12, 1943, one of 52 lost during the war.

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Two years after Tim Taylor and Christine Dennison put up $750,000 of their own money to find and document the R-12, the two explorers are tapping crowd-funding site Kickstarter to finish a documentary about the discovery.

‘‘It gave me chills,’’ Baldwin said. ‘‘The fact that Tim could show us the actual submarine on his sonar, it was so freeing. We were talking and we were grieving, which was something my mom had never done.’’

The R-12 was the oldest submarine used in WWII, built in 1918 and recommissioned in 1940 as a training vessel. Bob England, 90, was on the Key West Naval base the day the R-12 didn’t return.

‘‘I saw the ship off that morning, but I was fueling so I was the only person from the crew not aboard,’’ England said in a phone interview from Inverness, Fla. ‘‘That afternoon we were notified by the operations officer that the R-12 was overdue. Then they told us they were looking for survivors.’’

Five men were pulled from the water eight hours later, England said. The Navy Court of Inquiry, convened in Key West 10 days later, found that the forward battery compartment most likely started to flood and that the R-12 sank in 15 seconds. Forty-two crew members, including two Brazilian observers, died.

Scanning the ocean floor with sonar, Taylor’s researchers found the wreck in June 2011 and alerted the Navy. After securing a permit for non-intrusive exploration, they custom-built a remote-operated vehicle equipped with a high resolution camera and returned in August 2012 to bring back sharper images of a wreck few expected to ever see.

‘‘If you live your life on the ocean, you kind of have a kindred spirit to these guys who were out on the submarine,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘I could always feel that the ghost of the R-12 was out there, and you have all the tourists that come in on cruise ships and never know they’re passing right over it.’’

Dennison and Taylor, who were married at the Explorers Club in New York two months after they found the submarine, are seeking $89,000 on Kickstarter to complete a documentary about the R-12 that they hope will honor the sailors who died and fuel interest in future exploration efforts.

With more than 3,000 US Navy shipwrecks and 12,000 aircraft lost at sea around the world, the Navy was ‘‘not actively searching’’ for the R-12, said Robert Neyland, director of the underwater archaeology branch at the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington.

The wreck is Navy property and protected under the Sunken Military Craft Act. Neyland said he appreciates the initiative of independent explorers, and the Navy does not have any plans for technical or financial collaboration.

‘‘We’d like to see a good site report from Tim and his group so we could know the condition of the wreck, what it looks like, and if it’s fairly stable or deteriorating rapidly,’’ Neyland said in a phone interview from Orlando. ‘‘It’s probably best preserved by leaving it in place.’’

This month marks 70 years since the R-12 sank.

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