Documents related to deadliest submarine disaster in US history show no cover-up, skipper says


The release of roughly 3,000 pages of documents exploring the deadliest submarine disaster in U.S. history has resulted in no grim efforts to hide the truth, a Navy captain told the retirement.

Instead, documents show that Navy policies and procedures failed to keep pace with rapid technological advancements during the Cold War, allowing a series of failures that led to the sinking of the USS Thresher on 10 April 1963, said retired captain James Bryant. , who filed a lawsuit for the disclosure of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

“There is no cover-up. No smoking gun, ”he said.

That doesn’t make it any less tragic, however.

The loss of the nuclear-powered submarine and the 129 sailors and civilians on board during a test dive in the Atlantic Ocean was both a tragedy for families and a blow to national pride during the cold War.

The Thresher was the first in a new class of attack submarines that could travel further and dive deeper than any previous submarine.

But the documents suggest that the nuclear-powered submarine’s capabilities have surpassed Navy best practices based on older-generation submarines.

For example, the ballast system used to surface in an emergency was a legacy system that was never tested at greater depths and was found to be inadequate, according to the documents. There were known issues with silver brazed joints in pipes throughout the submarine. And the training was insufficient for a deep nuclear reactor shutdown.

The Navy believes the sinking of the Thresher was likely caused by a ruptured pipe and electrical issues that led to the shutdown of the nuclear reactor.

“The Navy continues to stand ready and remain transparent with families and the public about the 1963 Court of Inquiry findings and the likely scenarios that caused the loss of Thresher,” said Lt. Katherine Diener, Porte -speak of the Navy. Another 4,000 pages of documents related to Thresher are due to be released, she said.

Bryant, himself captain of a Thresher-class submarine, agreed that a series of events led to the sinking: the submarine descended far too quickly without stopping to assess the leaks from the tests of previous shock from months earlier; there were training issues because the location of the valves had changed while he was docked; and the ice build-up prevented the crew from effectively blowing the ballast tanks to resurface.

The main cooling pumps eventually shut down, followed by the nuclear reactor, depriving the submarine of the ability to stop its fatal descent, he said.

No one will know exactly how the disaster unfolded. But it is clear that precious minutes have passed as the crew realizes their dire situation. At one point, a message from the submarine to a rescue vessel said “900 north” suggesting the submarine was 900 feet beyond its testing depth, the documents said.

The depth of the test has been written up, but previously declassified documents indicated it was 1,300 feet, said Norman Friedman, a naval analyst and author of more than 30 books on naval topics.

The documents reveal that many of the submarine’s safety systems were based on operations at shallower depths compared to previous generation submarines and were inadequate in the unlikely scenario of a loss of nuclear propulsion underwater. deep, said Bryant.

This WWII nuclear age mindset proved fatal for the crew of the Thresher, he said.

At the time, the Navy’s resources and personnel were strained as it attempted to rapidly deploy submarines equipped with ballistic missiles to counter the Soviet missile threat, Friedman said.

This contributed to the reassignment of veteran crew members and the arrival on board of new officers and sailors who were less familiar with the Thresher’s complicated pipe and valve system prior to the fatal dive, he said.

“It’s almost a war situation and you could consider them cold war victims,” he said of the Thresher’s crew.

The destruction of the submarine prompted the Navy to accelerate safety improvements and create a program called SUBSAFE, a vast series of design changes, training and other improvements.

A submarine has since sunk, the USS Scorpion in 1968, and it was not certified SUBSAFE, the Navy said.

Tim Noonis, whose father, a radio operator, perished on the Thresher, said the loss remains painful for families like his, but finds comfort that the Navy has corrected the mistakes for the sake of future sailors.

“No one wants to lose a family member, but if other families have benefited from it, well, there is a little solace in there,” Noonis said.

Noonis was born at Portsmouth Shipyard, where the Thresher was built. The submarine was based in Groton, Connecticut.

His last dive was over the continental shelf, about 220 miles off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Thresher currently rests at a depth of 8,500 feet. The wreck stretches for more than a kilometer at the bottom of the ocean.


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