RODANTHE, NC (WVEC) -- A boat believed to have shipwrecked in the 1960s has been rediscovered, and it is revealing a mysterious and surprising origin.
The submerged vessel is in Pamlico Sound near Rodanthe and is in the direct path of the planned Bonner Bridge extension.
Researchers and graduate students from East Carolina University and UNC Coastal Studies Institute's Maritime Heritage Program have spent a month examining the ship to determine the site's historical significance prior to the bridge's construction.
While oral history suggests the ship was a gravel barge that ran aground in the 1960s, the research team has discovered its murky past goes back even further, to World War II.
“We began the field school armed with a significant amount of historical information about late 19th and early 20th century ship types," said project leader Dr. Nathan Richards in a news release. "We soon realized that the ship had a welded steel hull, and what we thought were rivets was some other diagnostic trait.”
Richards added, “Towards the end of the third week of fieldwork, the evidence that the Pappy’s Lane Wreck was actually a military vessel became increasingly clear.”
PHOTOS: Unearthing a shipwreck in the Outer Banks
After mapping and dredging targeted areas, Dr. Richards and his students matched the stern and other diagnostic details with two related classes of World War II gunboats: Landing Craft Infantry and Landing Craft Support vessels.
These boats -- which were built from the same blueprints but with some modifications -- were introduced late into the Pacific Theater of World War II and were used to land and support troops on enemy beaches, including Okinawa and Iwo Jima.
So how did a Pacific gunboat find its way sunken off the shores of the Outer Banks? That's a mystery that has not been fully solved.
After the war, many were transferred to foreign fleets as an effort to rebuild allied militaries. By the 1980s, most had been sold, scrapped, or converted to commercial fishing boats. Only one vessel continued serving in the Thai navy, which was eventually returned to the United States as a floating museum in 2007.
More research is still needed to help identify the exact type and name of the ship is, as there remains a large gap between the end of World War II and becoming an unassuming shipwreck in the 1960s.
“We did not expect to find an American amphibious assault vessel lying in Pamlico Sound, so our research is continuing,” said Richards, who added he hopes his team will be able to "shed more light on the vessel by the end of the year."