Vietnam veteran is scuttled to be an Everest for divers


The Times
May 13, 2006

Vietnam veteran is scuttled to be an Everest for divers
From Jacqui Goddard in Miami

USING strategically placed explosives and a lot of water, the US Navy is to perform a feat that its Cold War enemies longed to achieve sending the 32,000-tonne USS Oriskany to sleep with the fishes.

The decommissioned aircraft carrier, which played an important role in the wars in Korea and Vietnam, will be towed 24 miles off the coast of Florida and scuttled to create the worlds largest artificial reef.

Crewmen who served aboard the warship during its 26 years in service will gather this weekend in Pensacola, Florida, to toast fallen comrades and say farewell to the rusting vessel they once knew as the Mighty O, before it is dispatched 212ft (65m) to the ocean floor at sunrise on Tuesday.

Seeing that ship go under will be like saying goodbye to an old friend, said George Thomann, 57, who worked on radar and navigation duties on the Oriskany from 1970 to 1974. Some people might say that it would be better to scrap it. But this way its going to endure.

The Oriskany, named after an 18th-century New York battlefield, was commissioned in 1950 with the Korean War already under way. Capable of carrying 80 aircraft and 3,460 personnel, she entered the conflict two years later, after becoming the first aircraft carrier to round Cape Horn.

Warplanes from her flight deck raided enemy supply bases in the Korean combat zone, dropped 4,600 tonnes of bombs, unleashed more than one million rounds of ammunition and engaged Communist MiG jets in dogfights.

During the Vietnam War, its pilots set records for the highest number of combat sorties from a single carrier and participated in some of the wars most significant air raids. Some never returned, others disappeared for years, including Lieutenant-Commander John McCain, now a Republican senator, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and held prisoner for five years.

There was further tragedy in 1966 when a fire raged through five of its decks, killing 44 men. The ship was decommissioned in 1976 and is being disposed of to save on maintenance bills.

It has undergone years of work to strip it of tonnes of toxic materials to make it safe before it is sent to a watery grave. Underwater explorers say that it will become the Mount Everest of diving and provide a haven and breeding ground for fish and plant life. Its mast and other protrusions have been stripped out to avoid snagging fishing nets and parts of its interior welded shut to prevent divers from getting trapped. D emolition experts will detonate explosives to allow the ship to flood section by section, forcing the vessel into a controlled belly-flop lasting up to five hours. Pat Dolan, spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command, said: Itll be a fitting end to a ship that has served its nation well.