Almost 60 years accept gone by back the Thresher, again the Navy’s newest nuclear-powered submarine, plummeted to the basal of the sea during a deep-dive test. Now, afresh declassified abstracts are abacus to the abashing and agitation about the service’s deadliest abysmal loss.
Documents appear by the Navy in July call a alternation of contest aboard the abysmal Seawolf — one of the ships that was analytic the breadth afterwards communications were absent with the Thresher on April 10, 1963. The Seawolf heard a alternation of sounds that accept led to belief that the Thresher’s aggregation may accept been animate best than ahead thought.
However, experts on the submarine’s biconcave abolish the possibility.
“You could see the men on the Seawolf acquisitive adjoin achievement cerebration the complete ability be some survivors and recording them,” Chris Drew, columnist of a book that advised the incident, “Blind Man’s Bluff,” and a above aggressive journalist, explained. “There’s a lot of sounds in the ocean.”
The Thresher sank with 129 men aboard. In its wake, the Navy created a abysmal assurance program, SUBSAFE, to ensure that approaching abysmal hulls would break absolute and that they can balance from hasty flooding.
The new abstracts appearance that the Seawolf accustomed in the breadth the Thresher was believed to accept sunk on the morning of April 11, 1963, aloof over 24 hours afterwards the sub disappeared. The declassified log shows that, over a alternation of four dives, the abysmal appear audition assorted pings and sounds it anticipation ability be the missing Thresher.
At one point, the Seawolf broadcast: “We apprehend your underwater telephone. If you will accelerate 5 dashes we will accept absolute Identification — accelerate 5 dashes.” There is no address of bristles dashes actuality received, but the Seawolf connected to try to get a fix on the antecedent of the pings.
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About center through its search, the abysmal appear a “total of 37 pings heard counted.”
The Seawolf additionally appear sailors “may apprehend actual anemic voice” over their underwater receivers. They asked for a echo of the message, but one was never received.
On one dive, the Seawolf appear metal on metal banging heard on sonar. In amid requests to “bang 5 times on hull,” the abysmal appear audition added bangs, but a afterwards access conceded “he does not accord us cardinal asked for.”
The log additionally addendum that what the sailors were audition “could be sounds from [destroyers] in vicinity.”
Crushed by Ocean Pressure
Unbeknownst to the Seawolf at the time, every above assay has assured that, by the time it began its aboriginal dive search, the Thresher had already been ashamed by the ocean burden afterwards biconcave to 2,400 anxiety — 400 anxiety accomplished what its bark could take.
Norman Polmar, an columnist and argosy analyst who wrote the book “Death of the USS Thresher,” discounts the achievability that what the Seawolf heard was actual sailors in a still complete Thresher.
“I don’t accept it,” Polmar flatly told Military.com in an interview.
Polmar credibility to the recordings from the Navy’s underwater Complete Surveillance System, or SOSUS, as key affirmation in basic his opinion.
“We apperceive from the SOSUS tapes … that the abysmal imploded,” he said. “If it imploded, that agency they burst inward. Everyone died instantly — there was no acute on the metal.”
Drew additionally acicular out that it’s awful absurd the abysmal could still float, or accept absolute buoyancy.
“[The Thresher] couldn’t accept aloof been advancement absolute airiness and cipher can acquisition them,” he told Military.com in an interview.
Drew acclaimed that both the Seawolf and the apparent ships that were allotment of the search-and-rescue efforts all had alarm systems.
“If a massive abysmal is sitting at 1,000- to 2,000-feet abysmal for a day, don’t you anticipate alarm would accept best it up?” he asked. “It doesn’t accomplish any sense.”
Drew, who co-authored Robert Ballard’s afresh appear account “Into the Deep: A Account From the Man Who Found Titanic,” said the acclaimed undersea archaeologist, who surveyed the Thresher bones anon afore he amid the Titanic, accepted that the abysmal sank in unsurvivable abysmal waters.
“[Ballard] said it was far abundant from the continental shelf that it aloof went beeline bottomward and again already they got a little accomplished drove abyss … that was it,” Drew said.
Both Drew and Polmar acclaimed that there could be any cardinal of explanations for what the Seawolf aggregation heard and appear in 1963.
“You can be 500 afar from article and, because [of] underwater currents, the temperature gradients and added things, apprehend article that’s 500 afar away,” Polmar said.
He was quick to note, though, that “it ability accept been the added ships and submarines that were in the area.”
In fact, one access in the Seawolf address addendum several times that added Navy ships in the breadth were authoritative noises that fabricated it difficult to accept for sounds from the Thresher.
The anew appear capacity additionally draw absorption to the actuality that altercation charcoal on what initially acquired the Thresher to lose ability and sink.
The Navy’s official position is that an bare adjustment address acquired a aqueduct to abort on the submarine.
Retired Vice Adm. Ron Thunman, who allowable the Thresher’s sister sub, the Plunger, summed up the Navy position in an articulate history account in 2012.
“A aqueduct ruptured, and the aerosol ashore the electrical systems. … It acquired the reactor to [shut down],” Thunman said.
In addition, the Navy afterwards abstruse that if you try to draft a submarine’s balance tanks from that abysmal a depth, as the Thresher did, the air brim would account ice to anatomy and anticipate the sub from surfacing.
“So, [the Thresher’s commander] had no propulsion; he had no draft system, and they absent the ship,” he said.
Thunman went on to become agent arch of argosy operations, and he was the administrator who ordered Ballard to assay the Thresher bones in the 1980s as allotment of an acceding that additionally gave the oceanographer allotment to acquisition the armpit of the Titanic.
However, Polmar, forth with Bruce Rule, wrote an assay in Navy Times in 2013, on the 50th ceremony of Thresher’s loss, arguing for a altered account for the ability failure.
Rule was the analyst who advised the recordings accompanying to the accident of the Thresher and testified afore the Navy’s cloister of analysis on the incident. He went on to serve as the advance acoustic analyst in the Office of Argosy Intelligence for 42 years, backward in 1992.
Rule and Polmar argued that acoustic affirmation adumbrated that an electrical failure, not a aperture or flooding, acquired the reactor’s coolant pumps to shut down.
Polmar, who already batten with the Thresher’s aboriginal commander, Dean Axene, said the argosy administrator told him that one of the Thresher’s final letters to ships on the apparent supports his theory.
Shortly afore acquaintance was lost, the Thresher beatific a bulletin that read: “Experiencing accessory difficulty, accept absolute up-angle, attempting to blow.”
Polmar told Military.com that Axene said “the alone affair that he could anticipate of at assay depth, 1,300 feet, that he would call as a accessory difficulty, was a reactor abeyance because that happened periodically, not regularly, but every now and then, and there was a action for restarting it.”
Rule, in an accessible letter to Navy administration in 2013, wrote that the bulletin was “evidence those difficulties did not absorb calamity with the adverse furnishings such calamity is accepted to actualize at abundant depth.”
Those still amorous about answering all the questions about the Thresher, including above argosy admiral and ancestors associates of the crew, achievement to get added answers as the Navy releases added documents.
Ultimately, neither Polmar nor Drew feel that the revelations of the sounds heard by the Seawolf change their compassionate of the submarine’s sinking.
Drew said the new capacity are “very intriguing, alluring” but ultimately a comment in the beyond Thresher saga.
Polmar said he “wouldn’t alike accord it that abundant credit.”
In 2019, a canonizing to the Thresher’s aggregation was apparent at Arlington National Cemetery.
“Their cede will now appropriately be memorialized at our nation’s best anointed area beside tributes actuality to ancestors of collapsed heroes,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said at the time.
— Konstantin Toropin can be accomplished at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.
Related: Navy Declassifies 300 Pages of Probe into 1963 USS Thresher Disaster
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