Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

New York Times Goes for the Sensational

The New York Times, in this article by Christopher Drew (annoying free registration required) tries to dredge up what they can to make the Navy seem uncooperative and secretive regarding the grounding of the USS San Francisco (SSN-711). Excerpts follow:

The nuclear submarine that ran aground Saturday in the South Pacific hit so "incredibly hard" that about 60 of its 137 crew members were injured and the sailor who died was thrown 20 feet by the impact, according to internal Navy e-mail messages sent by a top admiral...

The messages were written by Rear Adm. Paul F. Sullivan, the commander of submarines in the Pacific. They paint a more dire picture of the accident, which occurred 360 miles southeast of Guam, than had previously been disclosed. They also hint at the extensive efforts to steady the vessel and save the sailor who died...

The e-mail also indicated that about 60 crew members had been injured. All the Navy had said publicly was that 23 crew members were treated for broken bones, cuts and bruises.

The messages said those 23 were hurt seriously enough that they were unable to stand their watch duties as the submarine limped back to Guam. Mr. Ashley said the submarine's captain, Cmdr. Kevin Mooney, told him by phone on Monday that among the injured crew members, "there were a lot of broken fingers, broken arms and legs and one fractured back."

The tone of the article indicates that the Navy had something to hide in their initial reports, whereas I think the Submarine Force has been as forthcoming as possible, especially with information as hard as it was to come by when the boat was still transiting back to Guam. The main information in the article seems to come from a series of E-mails sent by RADM Sullivan, ComSubPac, that I discussed earlier here. The main issue seems to be that there were 60 Sailors injured, rather than the previously reported 23. The Navy had never said there were only 23 injuries; rather, there were 23 injured so badly that they couldn't resume watchstanding duties. It is reasonable to assume that submariners will stand watch with minor injuries when they know that others are hurt more badly; the ship still needs people to operate the ship, especially on the surface. They may not have even reported their more minor injuries until the ship was safely in port.

This article, although informative, disappoints me somewhat in that Christopher Drew, who spent a lot of time with submariners (not me!) in researching his book Blind Man's Bluff, should have known better. I'm sure he is under pressure to get the most sensational story he can, but in this case he should have focused more on the real story of this tragedy -- the total professionalism, dedication, and bravery shown by the officers and crew of the San Francisco.

Update 1311 12Jan: Here's another version of the article that might not require registration. Based on my good friend Bothenook's comment, I re-read the article, and decided that, overall, it's actually fairly well-written and balanced. I guess I fell victim to one of the classic blunders: Reading a wacky Democratic Underground post about the grounding that linked me to the NYT article; I was still in the mindframe of idiotarian mocking when I read the article.

Going deep...


Blogger Subsunk said...


Good postings you are making here, son. I too am retired bubblehead. Your postings are keeping me updated on what really is going on. Several folks in my office (Houston, TX) ask me questions all the time about this event. Hopefully it really was an uncharted seamount, but you and I know it frequently only seems uncharted. We are all human and make mistakes. I'm glad the 711 fish was so well built. You know this one will top the grounding training briefs for quite awhile.

Keep up the good work. I'll keep reading.


1/12/2005 12:13 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

SubSunk -- Thanks! There's a lot more discussion and some good information, including from the San Fran crew, over at Ron Martini's BBS (

1/12/2005 12:21 PM

Blogger bothenook said...

joel, guess i should have looked here before post to martini's about this subject. could have honed my response before posting to a larger audience.
anyway, maybe i am a little slow, but i can not see whatever it is you find negative in drew's article.
it's almost word for word what CSP posted in the email, with extra information based on talking with the father of the kid that died. overall, i think for the nyt this article is quite positive. it actually ends with a comment by the dad praising the skipper. so, again, am i missing something?

1/12/2005 12:45 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

I think I've just been spending too much time lurking at the wacky conspiracy theory sites. When the article came out, some tin-foil hatters latched onto the fact that the E-mail said how there were actually 60 injured, when the Navy had only announced 23 injuries -- the assumption being that the Navy had something to hide, and the accident was worse than previously stated. On giving the article another read, especially at the bottom, I agree that overall it's fairly good, as I would expect from Mr. Drew.

1/12/2005 12:59 PM

Blogger Andy said...

Check out Pravda's take on the accident.The tone of the article is given away in the title of the article:

"Accident aboard the U.S. sub bears stunning resemblance to the 'Kursk' tragedy"

1/12/2005 8:35 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

I'd seen that one -- the author was trying to drag everything but the kitchen sink into it. I liked how he mentioned it was "within a thousand miles or so of the earthquake", neglecting to consider that it was on a completely different plate system, and with the Malay Peninsula in the way. What d'ya bet there's no follow-up now that we hav released a lot more information?

1/12/2005 9:18 PM


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