Monday, July 27, 2009

This Week in Diving History -- 17 July 1996 -- TWA 800 crashes

17 July 1996. TWA 800 (747) flying enroute to Europe exploded in mid-air and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, New York, shortly after take off from Kennedy International Airport.

All 230 people on board (two pilots, two flight engineers, 14 flight attendants, 212 passengers) were killed as the aircraft was completely destroyed. In the face of one of the worst airline disasters in recent American history, the Navy quickly embarked on one of its most ambitious salvage and recovery efforts, which ranked in scope with the recovery of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986 and the cleanup after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. In the first weeks after the crash, Navy Divers focused on its first priority: the recovery of human remains. When no more remains were visible, Divers collected pieces of the plane by hand and piled them into metal baskets which were then turned over to investigators. The wreckage would then be reconstructed and examined in a hangar at a Grumman facility in Calverton, N.Y.

Hundreds of square miles of ocean surface were searched during the initial search for victims and wreckage. Underwater efforts concentrated first on a 75 square mile location and then narrowed to a 25 square mile debris field. Diving operations took place between 115 and 130 feet deep in 50-degree water. Visibility on the ocean bottom was normally between 12 and 15 feet but was reduced to zero during periods of heavy weather and current. Within the first week, Navy divers had found and recovered both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. For the first month, the Divers were working around-the-clock shifts of 12 hours on and 12 hours off and recovered more than 50% of the aircraft's wreckage. During the 104 days in which the major Navy assistance took place, four Navy ships and ROVs along with more than 225 Navy Divers from across the Navy conducted the recovery.

All in all, 4,344 dives were conducted during the recovery operation (1,773 total diving hours) that retrieved more than 95 percent of the jumbo jet and the remains of the 230 victims.

Navy officials and other investigators called the salvage operation a remarkable success because nearly all of the wreckage from the Boeing 747 was retrieved from 120 feet of water, the most debris ever recovered from a commercial jet that crashed at sea. The recovery of these debris allowed investigators to uncover the cause of the crash. These discoveries lead to upgrades and procedures for aircraft still in use today to safe-guard against such an accident happening again.

Monday, July 20, 2009

This Day in Diving History - July 20, 1964 - SEALAB I leaves surface

This Day in Diving History - July 20, 1964 - SEALAB I Leaves Surface.

On July 20, 1964, SeaLab I (commanded by CAPT George F. Bond) lowered to a depth of 195 ft off the coast of Bermuda after its initial test in Panama City, FL. Sealab I would build on the foundations laid during the earlier Genesis saturation-diving project. The habitat would be constructed from two converted floats and held in place with axles from railroad cars. The experiment involved four divers - LCDR Robert Thompson, MC; GM1(DV) Lester Anderson, QMC(DV) Robert A. Barth, and HMC(DV) Sanders Manning. SeaLab I was a bottom habitat, saturation diving experiment whose purpose was to evaluate human ability to work under the water at moderate depths for prolonged periods. Although the operation had to be cancelled ten days early due to an approaching storm, it was a total success. It conclusively demonstrated the feasibility of open-sea saturation diving and set the stage for SeaLab II.

This program ultimately even had a huge impact on the global economy. The SEALAB program provided the commercial diving industry with its most important tool in the exploitation of offshore oil and gas reservoirs: the ability to dive deep and stay there for extended periods of time. In the process, the Navy medical community extracted a wealth of physiological data from their human subjects.

In the words of one of her aquanauts, Bob Barth:

"About Sealab One, the purpose of having that habitat built was to complete the feasibility study of putting man in the sea, no sat systems were available in the early 60's so we decided that the Cousteau concept of habitats was the best way to get someone on the bottom and leave them there. Four Navy folks occupied Sealab One for 11 days. I can tell you that those 11 days in that habitat were probably the best diving days I ever made; think about it, you travel down to 200 feet and not have to worry about bottom time, what you find sitting there is this monster house, (not something that we see very often). Bright lights, fresh water, warm showers, bunks, and plenty to eat, and nobody with a damn stop watch. She doesn't look like much now sitting out at the museum but in 1964 she was a palace. TBT 17000 +/- minutes, on the bottom."

SeaLab I is currently on display at the Man in the Sea Museum in Panama City, FL.

Note: For more about the SEALAB missions read, "Papa Topside: The Sealab Chronicles of Capt. George F. Bond, USN" by George F. Bond and "Sea Dwellers: The Humor, Drama, and Tragedy of the U.S. Navy Sealab Programs" by Bob Barth.

This Week in Diving History -- July 14, 1969 -- BEN FRANKLIN (PX-15) begins gulf stream drift diving mission.

This Week in Diving History -- July 14, 1969 -- BEN FRANKLIN (PX-15) begins gulf stream drift diving mission.

July 14, 1969 8:56 P.M. -- The Ben Franklin (PX-15) subsurface research vessel left surface off Palm Beach, Florida on a 30-day drift mission in the Gulf Stream with a crew of six. Its final destination would be 1500 miles north off of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The vessel was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin who recognized, publicized and named the current "The Gulf Stream" in 1770.

Its Mission: to investigate the secrets of the Gulf Stream as it drifted northward at depths of 600-2,000 feet; to learn the effects on man of a long-duration, closed-environment stressful voyage; to demonstrate the engineering-operational concepts of long term submersible operation; and to conduct other scientific oceanographic studies.

This mission would be the longest privately-sponsored undersea experiment of its kind. It ended more than 30-days (and 1,444 nautical miles) later, when the Franklin and its crew of six surfaced some 300 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia on August 14, 1969 at 7:58 A.M. This was and remains an unparalleled feat -- no other mesoscaph has gone for a more extended or deep drift type mission. All that being said; here is why many have likely never heard of it. The Ben Franklin was greatly overshadowed by the Apollo 11 man on the moon mission that was launched only two days into the Franklins historic mission. Ben Franklin made a few more dives after 1969, including the first deep-sea dive for Dr. Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the wreck of the Titanic. Dr. Ballard said he has fond memories of the Franklin, as its large size and comfortable bunks gave him his best "sleep in the deep." Usually, submersibles are small, cramped and you spend hours in contortions with cold water from condensation dripping on you. Recently, the Ben Franklin was overhauled and preserved to be displayed at its final resting place where it proudly sits at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

The following is an excerpt from the documentary "From Sea to Shining Sea" narrated by Walter Conkrite; regarding the Ben Franklin and its place in history:

"Timing is everything. In the summer of 1969, within one day of each other, two courageous crews set out to explore new frontiers. Both were missions of pure discovery. One would go to the Sea of Tranquility, the other to the massive eastern boundary current known as the Gulf Stream. One would completely obliterate the other in the world's awareness. For eight days in July, the world looked skyward, transfixed, as Apollo 11, with three astronauts aboard, rocketed to the Moon. No one noticed the launch of PX-15. Manned by six brave aquanauts, the mission of PX-15, in the mesoscaph Ben Franklin, endured a perilous 30 day, 1400 mile drift-dive deep in the Gulf Stream. Though regarded as an analogue to prolonged missions in space, it was little remarked and all but forgotten at the time. The achievements of Apollo 11 have since become a celebrated event in human history; the astronauts are American heroes. The achievements of PX-15 and her crew were never noticed, and remain in oblivion. While the world looked up toward the Moon as the Eagle tracked over the rugged terrain of the Moon and landed, the 50' Ben Franklin was drifting at 1200 feet, 40 feet off the bottom of the Continental Shelf, taking stereoscopic pictures of equally rugged terrain. While the astronauts walked and worked on the Moon nearly 240,000 miles away, the aquanauts carried out their mission under crushing pressures between 800 and 2000 feet deep in the ocean. The danger to both missions and both crews was extreme, with little margin for error and very little hope of recovery in the event of an accident or emergency. Yet, one returned to the accolades of an adoring world, while the other returned to the notice of almost no one. The coincidence of the Apollo 11 moon mission and the Ben Franklin Gulf Stream Mission in 1969 is a strange and rare historical event, one that involves two of my favorite subjects - space and ocean exploration."
- Walter Conkrite

Within a few years, the frontiers explored by Apollo 11 and PX-15 were abandoned and a golden age of human exploration came to an end. Sending something into the unknown has now largely replaced sending someone. As you hear about the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, keep in mind the contributions of the Ben Franklin.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Diving History - All Hands Magazine - June 1945

Diving History - All Hands Magazine

The Navy's All Hands Magazine has been in circulation for quite sometime. The first "issue" of All Hands was printed as the Bureau of Navigation News Bulletin No. 1 (dated Aug. 30, 1922). The name "All Hands" was first seen on the June 1945 cover as America claimed "Victory in Europe", and the name stuck. Eighty seven years since its first issue, All Hands has served as the official magazine of the U.S. Navy. One has only to look through the archives to get an accurate feel for the Navy during any given time period.

March 1959 - Special Issue: Underseas Navy

In March 1959, All Hands ran a special Undersea Navy issue. This issue was a very Navy Diver intensive issue; the majority of the 68 page magazine was dedicated to diving of some fashion. The .pdf size of this magazine is 28mb making it impractical/impossible to send to everyone. Instead here is the hyperlink to it (keep in mind it takes a few minutes to load, so be patient....its well worth it):


Thursday, July 9, 2009

This Week in Diving History

This Day in Diving History -- July 5, 1926 -- S-51(SS-162) raised.

On the night of 25 September 1925, the submarine S-51 was operating on the surface near Block Island, with her running lights on. The merchant steamer City of Rome spotted S-51's masthead light but had difficulty determining its course, speed, or intentions. S-51 spotted the ship and held course as she was required to do by the Rules of the Road. Since the submarine's stern light was plainly visible to the approaching ship, they felt no alarm; the steamer would surely change course and pass them, so they thought. They watched as the City of Rome drew closer until it looked as if it would run them over in spite of the rules. The submarine turned its rudder hard right in an avoidance maneuver. Just when it seemed that the steamer was turning away from them, to their horror, it changed direction and headed for their right side. The steamer T-Boned the submarine, ran completely over her -- forcing her underwater, and kept going. This created a huge hole, about 30 inches wide, instantly flooding the boat. This all happened so quickly that there was no time to close the watertight doors. The S-51 sank in less than one minute. The sub and her crew had disappeared in some 132 feet of water about fourteen miles east of Block Island.

Only three of the 36 men in the submarine were able to abandon ship before she sank that were later picked up by the City of Rome. The disaster stirred such a strong public reaction that Navy brass made the decision to attempt to raise the 1,000-ton submarine from the bottom of the sea and recover the bodies. No vessel had ever been raised from such a depth, and to the technical mind this task was impossible. This gargantuan task was given to Lieutenant Commander Edward Ellsberg and a group of Navy Divers scavenged from all over the fleet. It was quickly realized however that there were only had 20 Divers in inventory that were qualified to dive deeper than 90 feet - a result of World War I cutbacks and lack of diving/salvage interest within the Navy.

Over a painstaking nine-month period, he and his men performed exhausting and terrifying work at unprecedented depths in hour-long increments-working against the severe, dangerous, and often unforeseen forces of nature-to enact a miracle of ingenuity and sheer will. A special Diver training course had to be made part of the operation due to the limited number of qualified divers in the Navy at the time. The submarine was finally raised on July 5, 1926 and towed to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. There it stayed on display for some time until it was later sold for scrap.

The salvage of the S-51 presented many challenges and revealed many shortcomings in the Navy's then diving, submarine rescue and salvage capabilities. The biggest being the impact that a lack of funding, manning and training had on the Navy's ability to conduct such operations when they were critically needed.

For the Navy Divers efforts in this task, the following medals were awarded.

Distinguished Service Medal - This was the first time this was ever awarded in peace-time.
1. Edward Ellsberg - Also promoted to Commander by special act of Congress.

Navy Cross - Stars denote those individuals that would be awarded more than one Navy Cross during their career.
1. Badders, William *
2. Carr, William *
3. Eadie, Thomas *
4. Eiben, Joseph *
5. Frazer, James
6. Hawes, Richard *
7. Kelly, John *
8. Loughman, William *
9. Schissel, Solomon
10. Smith Francis
11. Wickwire, William *
12. Wilson, Raymond *

Books about the S-51 salvage:
1. "On the Bottom" by Edward Ellsberg
2. "I Like Diving" by Tom Eadie
3. "Men Under the Sea" by Edward Ellsberg

The following hyperlink contains all 104 pages of the "US Navy Department Report on Salvage Operations -- Submarine S-51"