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.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sometimes We Forget How Dangerous Submarining Really Is

Sixth Fleet HQ has announced the death of two submariners from the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul (SSN 708), who were washed overboard with two other shipmates during a port egress today from Plymouth, England. From a CNN article on the accident:
Authorities received a request for help just before 1 p.m. near the large concrete breakwater barrier that protects Plymouth harbor. The British coast guard dispatched a search and rescue helicopter and a lifeboat to the scene, but police had already plucked the sailors from the water.
Sean Brooks, a coast guard officer, said that rescuers initially only saw two sailors tied to the vessel's hull with ropes.
"Because of the violent weather, they were frequently plunged below the waves," he said. "It then transpired that there were already two other guys in the water."...
...Servello, the Navy spokesman, said the submarine had just completed a weeklong layover in Plymouth and was heading out to sea for routine duties.
Winds gusts reached 47 mph and there were light rains, Britain's Meteorological Office said.
Provan, the police spokesman, said the submarine continued on its journey, but would be returning to Plymouth harbor on Saturday, once the weather and tides become more favorable.
Minneapolis-St. Paul is currently about midway through a routine deployment; she left at the beginning of October, nominally as part of the Eisenhower CSG:

Working topside in rough weather is one of the most dangerous things submariners do, and one of the things we practice least frequently. From the sounds of it, all Sailors involved were wearing their safety harnesses; from the early reports, it sounds like they may have been rigging topside for dive (as PigBoatSailor suggests over at Ultraquiet No More). I've seen cases before where, in order to more easily reach cleats and vent covers a good distance from the safety harness track on the towed array fairing, Sailors working topside have disconnected from their deck traveller and hooked onto a buddy who was attached to the safety track. (I have no idea if that was the case this time.) Right now, our thoughts are with the families and shipmates of the fallen Sailors.

The Sub Report has many more stories on this tragedy, including this report from a Norfolk-area newspaper.

Staying at PD...

Update 0640 31 Dec: The names of the Sailors who gave their lives have been released.


Blogger Gryphonette said...

Their poor families. :^(

That was horrid, to idly click onto as usual, only to be met with the headline "Two U.S. sailors die after falling from submarine."

I realized the odds of one of them being Charles was lower'n low, seeing as how he hasn't qualified yet, but it was still nervewracking to click to see which submarine it was.

Not the Dallas.

But hundreds of people, poor lambs, saw exactly the submarine they did NOT want to see, followed by "Names withheld until notification of next-of-kin."

For pity's sake there are only 137 people on that boat! What a dreadful thing to do to them. What was so crucial and time-sensitive about that story the news media couldn't kindly sit on it until confirmation was received that the families had been notified?

Insensitive clods, that's what they are.

12/29/2006 8:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems we have forgotten a previously learned lesson yet again. I recall almost the exact same circumstances (bad weather, breakwater, men topside) 5 or 10 years ago. Can't recall or find the boat or the port. I keep thinking one of the A-boats and Jebel Ali or Apra Harbor though.

12/29/2006 9:08 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in 1986, two sailors off the USS Grant (LTjg Jiminez, and TMC(SS) Thompson) were topside rigging the ship for dive in severe weather, as the boat was departing PNSY. They were battered about by the waves washing over them, and one of the safety lines broke, washing the man overboard, drowning him, while the other was beaten into unconciousness, and subsequently drowning him as well. The OOD that day later became my DH on the SSBN 735, and told me the whole story.

I remember going through the safety standdown training (one of the Navy's first I recall), and doing all the "lessons learned" training about making sure that you do all that you can do prior to leaving port, and doing so in inclement weather in the safety of the harbor, which the GRANT had failed to do. Why do we have to waste two young lives learn these same things all over again 20 years later? Why aren't these things part of safety training like they were when I was in, which wasn't all that long ago?

Things never cease to amaze me how the Navy operates.

12/29/2006 9:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

1987 is indeed the correct year for the tragedy aboard the Grant. Thanks, pbsailor.

12/29/2006 9:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is with sad thoughts that I saw this on the SubReport this morning. Living out where I do, this can happen a couple of times a year and is carried in our lessons learned for the visitors to train on.
My only thoughts are where was the ORM for a storm and why were they still topside as they entered the breakwater?
My last unit, we had all lines down but #1 within 10 minutes of lines off and line 1 down in the trunk within about 15 to 20 minutes. I was line supervisor aft, the COB forward.
This story does not sound right to me......
God bless to their families.

12/29/2006 9:36 PM

Blogger WillyShake said...

How very sad.

I've been to various UK ports half a dozen times, but never to Plymouth--anyone familiar with this port? (i.e. does it have a history of dangerous breakwater?) I can imagine from memory what the weather must have been awful.

At the same time, I can't help but wonder--why Plymouth?

12/30/2006 6:54 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To willy shake

I have been to Plymouth, I went in 2004, around October, ON THIS VERY BOAT! though I am not onboard anymore many of my friends still are, and it is frustrating that I do not yet know who this happened to.

12/30/2006 7:12 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The incident I'm thinking of involved a 688. The Sub Force instituted a policy of lifeguard boats following departing submarines until all topside personnel were below after it happened.

12/30/2006 8:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are thinking of OLYMPIA in 98 I believe. Exiting a Persian Gulf port-Jebel Ali perhaps? They were more fortunate, 8 men went into the water when a series of waves swept topside, some beat up pretty bad, but no loss of life. Fwd escape trunk flooded (could not shut the upper hatch because it was fouled with phone lines so the lower hatch was shut with guys topside) and they could not drain it. Lots of lessons learned.

Rebootinit, I think you are being too harsh for now on the boat. We do not have a timeline of events. Never been to Plymouth, but the breakwater does not look to far out after exiting Devonport (At least from internet satellite imagery). Reports say MSP was ivo the breakwater, what with pilots and RFD, she may have still been inside your 20 minute timeline. I hope she was not stowing lines-688s always try to have lines supplied by the pier, makes u/w much easier, especially in foul weather.

Clinging Vine, you are 100% correct. SOBs have imposed excessive additional heartache on the crew's families for no reason other that to be first with a story only submariners really care about.

12/30/2006 9:59 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Olympia is probably what I'm thinking of though I thought there was/were death(s) involved. Thanks.

12/30/2006 6:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all need to be reminded from time to time of the dangers our submariners face on a daily basis - with or with actual combat going on. Thanks for being there Joel. Hmmm CNN - impressive - FOX didn't stop to say anything about these sailors.

12/31/2006 12:41 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My thoughts go out to the family and friends of these poor men, while at the same time it reminds me of a tragedy that we had with one of our Oberon Class Submarines some years back when they dived leaving two men topside.... they were never found. Too add to the Insult, and the insensitivity when the news broke on the TV, the Advertisement that followed the report was a Navy recruitment Add, stating that vacancies now existed etc. I served 14 years in the Airforce, and know the names of many Men who should be with us today who payed the price not in War, but still protecting and serving their country in peace. The Silent Service is always at a state of war readiness, more so than any other branch of the Armed forces in peace time and I only hope that people who have never served, think of that from time to time.

12/31/2006 11:26 AM

Blogger Trickish Knave said...

I recall a similar incident happening a few years ago with a boat leaving Guam. For the life of me, and speaking from experience as Line 1 supervisor for many years, I will never understand why the underway always trumps the hazards of the process itself.

Hey jackholes, if it is too choppy to get underway then give the boys a break and stay in an extra day.

12/31/2006 7:43 PM

Blogger Boomer Rider said...

Rest in Peace, Shipmates!

12/31/2006 11:23 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To "Anonymous said..." that I was harsh?
The ocean is a harsh mistress, few mistakes are tolerated on a submarine without something occuring. Being a topside line handler is the most dangerous of these. In that sea state, the boat should have held position to allow the linehandlers/small boat handling party to finish and secure below. Nothing on a timeline is worth a life.
Entering breakwaters with a crew on deck during a storm?
It is up to the CO's prudence on when he will send the pilot below for disembarkment.
Taking waves over the deck on a 688 is fast and dangerous, the harnesses only keep you connected to the boat, they also injure you more from the wave action if you are pulled off your feet. They literally beat you to death.
I think and I stand firm on this. Many better decisions could have been made on that bad day.
God bless to the families and Crew. We will see what follows on.

12/31/2006 11:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trickish Knave, you know the answer to that question. No commanding officer is going to put his promotion to captain on the line for a little thing like the safety of the crew.
Yeah, I was topside supervisor for many years, and went through this exact scenario quite a few times. It was just dumb luck that more of us didn't end our naval careers like this.
My prayers to the families.

1/01/2007 8:37 AM

Blogger Zhang Fei said...

stsc: Yeah, I was topside supervisor for many years, and went through this exact scenario quite a few times. It was just dumb luck that more of us didn't end our naval careers like this.

Doesn't this incident mean the captain gets released into the private sector?

1/01/2007 12:24 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike J. Holtz, 30 was an amazing friend, brother, son and father. The type of man that emulated the American spirit. He loved his job in the NAVY and all of those he served with him.

He comes from an amazing family, and raised by exceptional parents. Last night (New Years Eve) we held a celebration of life in the memory of Mike Holtz and Thomas Higgins. Instead of the traditional New Year toast, 25 close freinds and family took a moment to speak of their life with a toast, and a moment of silence.

We thank all of you who have been supportive, both military and non-military. It is a very trying time with lots of questions. Together we will all go on and thats what Mike would have wanted.

Mike and Tom may you be resting in GOD's eternal kingdom.

1/01/2007 5:23 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was (and continues to be) a tragedy on many levels. At the heart of it are two lives lost and families devastated. Their shipmates will live with the loss for the rest of their lives - and none more than the CO and XO, who have shouldered the responsibility for the decisions leading up to the accident.

Others have noted how dangerous the sea services can be - and the submarine service in particular. All should know that the CO (who has now been relieved) and XO are personally devastated, and to imply that there was any selfish disregard for the lives of the men of the M-SP is a gross disservice to them and their shipmates.

A few facts - the loss occurred during the transfer of the British harbor pilot. The sub was on its wasy to its next port and was planning on a 12-hour plus surface transit, so no unnecessary pre-dive preparations were involved. All four men on deck were correctly harnessed and tethered.

...may God give their soul rest and solace to their oved ones.

...a Navy Mom

1/21/2007 11:08 AM


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