Tuesday, April 10, 2007

April 10

Perhaps the most sophisticated submarine of its day was crushed 44 years ago today off the coast of Cape Cod. The USS Thresher, a 3700-ton Permit class nuclear submarine, was desiged to navigate deeper and move faster than any previous submarine, for the purpose of hunting down and destryong missile-firing subs developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After an overhaul during the winter, the Thresher sailed to New England to conduct deep-water tests. On the morning of 10 April 1963. a design flaw -- most likely located along the steel bonded fittings in the sub’s piping system -- caused 100,000 pounds of water to spray into the sub, tilting its nose upward and shutting down the vessel’s reactor. Without power, the Thresher sank toward the ocean bottom. When it reached its “crush depth,” the submarine imploded, taking the lives of 129 sailors and civilians, whose last moments must have been unendurably frantic as they struggled to regain control of the doomed vessel. Radio operators on the USS Skylark -- a naval rescue ship assigned to shadow the Thresher on its maneuvers that day -- actually heard the submarine’s last moments, which somewhat mercifully consisted merely of the sounds of metal being crushed.

The loss of the Thresher proved to be the worst peacetime naval disaster in US history. The vessel still rests in six parts along the ocean floor.