DOOR COUNTY, Wis. - A Michigan exploration group could make history next week.
Steve Libert's Great Lakes Exploration Group will try to identify one of the world's best known shipwrecks. The group believes it has found Le Griffon, the first European-owned vessel to sail the Midwest waters.
In September 1679, French explorer Robert La Salle's Le Griffon was lost after leaving Washington Island. It had six people on board.
At Door County's Maritime Museum, Executive Director Bob Desh says finding the Griffon would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
"It's quite literally the holy grail, if you will, of shipwrecks," said Desh. "To Great Lake ship exploration it would be like finding Noah's Ark."
The 17th century ship was built near Niagara Falls, to help explore the waters between Niagara and present-day Illinois.
Libert believes he finally found Le Griffon in 2001, in northern Lake Michigan. Libert was traveling Tuesday and unavailable to do an interview. Starting next week, French archeologists will help Libert try to confirm his discovery.
"From a historian standpoint, you can't wait to find out what those guys find because there's not an awful lot known about ship construction here on the Great Lakes at that time," said Desh.
Landing the permit to identify this shipwreck has been a decade in the making. A legal dispute had to be settled between not only the exploration group and the state of Michigan, but France as well.
"The French government says, hey wait a minute, this thing flew under a French flag, it's ours or at least we have a piece of this," said Desh. "This is an important part of our history, so that's very complicated."
If the wreckage ends up being Le Griffon, Libert and the French government will likely be back at the negotiation table, deciding what to do with the long lost ship.
Starting next Wednesday, FOX 11 will have a crew with the Great Lakes Exploration Group as it looks to confirm Le Griffon. We will bring you reports throughout their mission.
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