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First-ever nuclear submarine disaster took place 49 years ago

11.04.2012  |  12:20

This disaster was the first one that occurred to a nuclear submarine. Forty-nine years ago during a test dive to 220 kilometers off the northeastern coast of the United States the American submarine "Thresher" has sunk without trace into the abyss. The remnants of the submarine still rest at a depth of nearly two and a half miles

This disaster was the first one that occurred to a nuclear submarine. Forty-nine years ago during a test dive to 220 kilometers off the northeastern coast of the United States the American submarine "Thresher" has sunk without trace into the abyss. The remnants of the submarine still rest at a depth of nearly two and a half miles. Scientists are still arguing about the causes of the disaster.  However, the causes have not been named.

At 7:30AM on April 10, 1963 the submarine "Thresher" began a deep dive into the Atlantic. There were 17 civilian experts on board besides the regular crew. They were representatives of the plant-builder and some industrial companies, as well as four members of the Portsmouth shipyard, where the boat had just been repaired. The goal was to test dive the ship to the maximum depth for this project- 360 meters. Submarine "Thresher" was accompanied by the rescue ship "Skylark" equipped with sonar communication devices, and a rescue diving bell. Its crew had divers who could perform the work at the depth of up to 30 meters.

This is a normal practice for all, without exception, fleets of the world. Usually, the first venture to the sea after the repair has many civil specialists onboard. Just in case, the newly refurbished ships are accompanied by specially-equipped support vessels. In the morning of April 10 the submarine surfaced to a periscope depth to determine its geographical location before the deep-sea dive.

At this point, it has already passed the continental shelf and went to the area of ​​Wilkinson Basin, where the depth of the Atlantic Ocean increased dramatically from 300 to 2,400 meters. That is, it nearly reached the place where it could submerge without fear of crashing into the bottom. The sea at this time was calm, visibility was excellent, and the wind speed did not exceed 3.5 meters per second. Communication with the rescue boat "Skylark" was conducted via the so-called hydro-acoustic phone.

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At eight o'clock the submarine commander gave the order to start a deep dive.

He had to get in touch with "Skylark" every 15 minutes. At 7.54AM the first message came from the submarine: "All right, we continue to submerge." At 9:30AM "Skylark" has taken the last message, from which it could only make out two words, "... the maximum depth ...". The problems began at 9.10AM when the submarine did not answer the call.

There was no answer to the repeated calls in one minute. Worried about the submarine, the navigator of "Skylark" took the microphone and shouted: "Are you all right? Answer! Answer me, for God's sake." But there was no answer. At 09.11AM a very indiscriminate message came from the boat indicating that they encountered some problems. A few seconds later the noise of compressed air entering the tank was heard, which lasted for 20-30 seconds. Judging by the sounds, the submariners tried to blow the ballast tanks.

A few seconds after that came a muffled unclear roar. Later, the navigator of "Skylark" described the noise as crackling of breaking hull that he knew from his experience in the Second World War.   For an hour and a half "Skylark" waited in vain for the submarine to surface. The tension on board the rescue boat increased every 15 minutes when the response signals from the "Thresher" did not come. At 10.40AM the commander of "Skylark" has decided to move to more effective measures.

Grenades were thrown into the water, and their explosions were supposed to serve as the signal to "Thresher" to immediately surface. However, this did not produce any results. Finally convinced that the connection with the "Thresher" was lost, the commander of the "Skylark" sent a telegram to the headquarters. The next day, pieces of cork and plastics, plastic bottles and glasses, and a few rubber gloves used by divers were picked up in the area where the submarine had disappeared. It became clear that the submarine "Thresher" with 129 people on board was lost. In 1963-1964, the wreckage of the outer hull was found and photographed on the ground.

The remains were believed to be those of "Thresher." There have been several theories of what had happened. The first theory is that due to an error of the submarine personnel the submarine slipped through the maximum depth and was crushed by the enormous pressure of the water. The second theory said that the boat lost its buoyancy because of water getting into the hull through a damaged valve or pipe.

However, the truth has not been established yet. These are the official theories. Apart from these, other assumptions were reported in the foreign press. For example, the possibility of explosion of the submarine was not ruled out, including as a result of a combat exposure "of unknown underwater enemy." That year was marked by the Caribbean Crisis, nuclear confrontation and so on. Therefore, at the time the theory of the loss of "Thresher" in a "battle" was perceived by the Americans as quite realistic. Some scientists from the U.S.

suggested that the cause of death of the submarine was the so-called internal waves. That day in the test area a cyclone was raging that could have caused them. Soviet scientists have pointed out another possible cause.

The cyclone has caused a strong swirling motion in the ocean waters near the boat, and this contributed to the intense mixing of the upper ocean. As a result, the lighter warm water from the upper layer could be pulled down. If "Thresher" suddenly fell into a layer of warm water near the maximum depth, it could simply fall below the maximum mark. The crew had no time to blow the ballast tanks, and "Thresher" sank at the depth of 2,800 meters. Five years later, on May 21, 1968, under equally mysterious circumstances in 400 kilometers from the Azores submarine "Scorpion" sank with 91 people onboard.

The boat is still buried at the depth of nearly three kilometers. The naval forces of the United States could not establish the cause of the incident, but the old maritime tradition attributed the unfortunate fate of the submarine to the Bermuda Triangle. It was the second and last major disaster in the U.S. submarine force. Since 1970, six Soviet and Russian boats have sunk. Andrei Mikhailov Pravda.Ru  Read the original in Russian.



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