Saturday, 29 January 2005

"Some External Damage" update

Over at The Stupid Shall Be Punished, an excellent Submariners' blog, there's some first-hand data in the comments about the collision mentioned below.
Also, half an hour before the impact we had the sphere access open getting mooring lines preped for our shellback initiation, luck was on our side.
This would not have been good.
Our weapons handling Master Chief at PHNSY (I work in the next office) told me the port tubes are knocked off kilter, the shutters and muzzle doors are gone, and even the breech doors are jammed. Also heard the MBT vent valves were FUBAR, as well as ruptures in the MBT's, sonar dome is destroyed, and I have heard rumblings of decom. Of course, it will all depend on the assessment of damage (and I've heard nothing official, just a lot of speculation).

My hat's off and a salute raised to Captain Mooney and the crew for bringing the San Fran home...and to the designers, builders, and those who've repaired and maintained her over her life. It takes some real engineering and seamanship to bring a boat home with that sort of damage. I'll sail with those guys any day.
Amen.
...it does from the picture like #2 muzzle door was gone; having the tubes knocked off-kilter was one of the things that always scared me, since if the welds crack on both sides of the pressure hull bulkhead, well, there ain't no flood control lever that'll fix that one.
As for the contents of the torpedo tubes :
There were two weapons loaded at impact. Both had bent pins but not otto breach and were offloaded last week. Amazing stuff, and thank God we don't use peroxide loads.
I suppose I'd better provide subtitles (pardon the pun) for the great majority of readers not totally familiar with Salty Nautical-type jargon.

1. A usually-sealed access hatch was open just half an hour before the collision - a hatch that led directly to the damaged area. At 500 ft, if it had been open, the boat would have been lost. The "shellback" initiation is a traditional ceremony dating back to when Noah was a boy.

2. The torpedo tubes on the left side of the ship (they're not in the nose) are wrecked. The outer doors are missing, the inner doors jammed, and the whole apparatus knocked out of alignment. The Main Ballast Tank valves are wrecked (F..d up beyond all recognition, not just wrecked, but totally smashed), the Main Ballast Tanks themselves have large leaks, the very-expensive spherical-array sonar at the bow is smashed, and the boat is so badly damaged it may be decomissioned - a write-off.

3. The torpedos tubes are wrecked (again), and if they'd been so badly damaged as to crack the pressure hull (which they penetrate), the situation would have been dire.

4. The Mk48/ADCAP torpedos carried by these boats contain a monopropellant called Otto fuel. Another name for monopropellant is "explosive", it burns without needing a source of oxygen. It burns rapidly too, one got dropped during loading a number of years ago, and a building 100 metres away was severely damaged by the resultant explosion. Anyway, the torpedos in the torpedo tubes were badly damaged, but not enough to cause a leak of this highly dangerous fuel. Had the US Navy used the same propellant as torpedos in the Russian Submarine "Kursk"... the outcome would have been similar to the Kursk's fate. Except that the San Francisco was already at 500 ft (the depth the Kursk finally came to rest), and it was another 5000 ft to the ocean bottom. She would have been lost with all hands.

Here's another first-hand report, that I got via a mate of mine.
To All,
I thought that I would put out a note since a lot of you have been calling and writing to find out how things are and if I'm OK and what happened. If you hadn't heard, my boat hit a uncharted submerged sea mount at the highest speed we can go at about 500ft below the surface.
There were about 30 of us that were seriously hurt and unfortunately one of my shipmates didn't make it.

First off I am OK. I am pretty beat up with my entire left side and butt as one big bruise. My shoulder is separated and may require surgery. They will evaluate later this week. I am very fortunate that I hit the wall and didn't go down a ladderwell that was right next to where I hit. If I had gone down that, I would have got really messed up. I took a tremendous shot to my left thigh from something. If it had been slightly lower in the knee area it would have been really ugly. But all in all I am in good shape.

We hit it at about noon right after field day (where all of us clean the boat for several hours). Thank God we didn't hit while we were doing this or it would have been much worse. We would have had flying deck plates through the air and such. Not good. As it was, it happened while chow was going on and most people were either sitting and eating or on watch.

I don't remember much of the collision. People describe it as like in the movie the Matrix where everything slowed down and levitated and then went flying forward faster that the brain can process. My mind has blanked it out exactly what happened. Adrenaline kicked in and I have no real memory of how I got down to middle level or what I did immediately following. I helped carry several shipmates to the crew mess deck (adrenaline is a wonderful thing - my shoulder was wrecked and I had no idea until about 4 hours later). I sat with several of my junior guys that had bad head wounds and talked with them to keep them conscious until doc could see them. It seemed like an eternity but I'm sure wasn't that long. For those Navy folks that ever wondered why Chief's stomp around and preach "Stow for Sea" This was a perfect example. It definately saved lives.

I am extremely proud of the crew to do damage control, help the wounded and get the boat safely to the surface (for the boat guys we blew the tanks dry on the emergency blow but unbeknownst to us we were missing some ballast tanks/some didn’t have integrity). The ship's control party did every thing exactly right even though they were hurt as well.

The Diving Officer of the Watch had just unbuckled his belt to update a status board and hit the Ship's Control Panel hard enough to break some of the gauges. To add insult to injury his chair came up right behind him. Several people were injured in the Engine Room Lower Level area. Lots of metal and sharp edges in the area as well as that's were the boat's smoking area is at. Several crew members are reevaluating that habit now.

Once again we got lucky in the fact that we had an extra corpsman onboard. One of our officer's was a prior enlisted corpsman that was a Fleet Marine Force medic so he was a Godsend for us. Our Corpsman did an outstanding job getting everyone stabilized and did the best he could for our fallen shipmate. I am surprised that he got him to hold on as long as he did. Our corpsman is definitely a hero in my book. He didn't sleep for 2 or 3 days. We finally put him down when the SEAL docs helicoptered in to help.

Like I said, I am extremely proud of my crew and how they handled themselves. My Chief of the Boat was an inspiration of what a leader should be and my Captain was as well. My XO took out an EAB manifold with his back but still managed to help coordinate things. No matter what happens later, these men did a superior job under difficult circumstances. I am humbled by the entire crew's performance from the CO down to the Seaman that I was checking in two days before.

For those of you wondering, I am sure there will be an investigation into what happened and no I was not part of the navigation preps for this voyage. I work on the inertial/electronic navigation and interior communications part of my rate and didn't have anything to do with the conventional navigation part of it. I will be lending support to my comrades who were to help them prepare for the pending investigation.

I thank you all for you concern and appreciate your prayers not only for myself, but for my shipmates. We are doing well, we band of brothers and will pull through just fine.

Thanks,

Brian Frie

Chief Electronics Technician Submarines USS San Francisco SSN 711
More data about the epic fight to save the San Francisco, from the Submarine Brotherhood blog :
With uncontrolled flooding in its forward ballast tanks, the USS San Francisco had to run a low-pressure air pump for 30 hours straight to maintain buoyancy on its trip home, Navy sources said. The pump is rated for only intermittent use.

In addition, the submarine ran its diesel engines, channeling the exhaust into the forward ballast tanks in an effort to force out more of the water and make the ship lighter.

"Based on the information I've seen so far, they're very lucky this ship didn't sink," said retired Navy Capt. John C. Markowicz. "Only through the heroic efforts of the crew did that ship survive."
[...]
San Francisco was on its way to Brisbane, Australia, just before noon Saturday when it ran into the seamount, crushing the front end of the submarine. At that depth, the water pressure was almost 250 PSI, or about 16 times atmospheric pressure, so the chief concern was to get to the surface as quickly as possible.

The crew executed an "emergency blow," forcing high-pressure air into the ballast tanks to make the submarine rise sharply.Once on the surface, though, the crew realized the ship was experiencing severe flooding into two of the three forward ballast tanks, and had to come up with some type of quick fix.

The low-pressure air system normally used for short periods of time was pressed into continuous service, and the ship started its diesel generators and used the exhaust to augment the blower to keep as much water as possible out of the ballast tanks.
Finally, an e-mail from the Commanding Officer of the San Francisco (courtesy of Submarine Brotherhood:
From: "Kevin & Avril Mooney"

Subject: Something you can do to help

Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 17:21:17 +1000

Dear family and friends,

Let me express my deep appreciation for the outpouring of support from you following the tragic grounding of USS SAN FRANCISCO. I cannot yet recount the details or explain my involvement because the investigation remains in progress. The news stories and recently released photos of the boat indrydock provide a basic description of what happened.

The saddest part of this event was the loss of my shipmate, MM2(SS) Joseph Ashley. This week, I had the pleasure of meeting his parents, who traveled to Guam courtesy of the Navy to meet his shipmates & friends. The Ashley's are wonderful people and their visit was memorable for all of us.

Many of you have offered me help in dealing with this crisis, and I am most appreciative. In addition to your continued prayers, I do have a special request for some help from all of you:

(1) please go to the attached website and send a note of condolence to MM2(SS) Ashley's family

(Click here for Guestbook Website)

(2) please send the attached link to other people, especially submariners, and ask them to do the same

The Ashley family frequently checks this website, and they read and cherish every word. They are honored that it currently stands at 33 pages. After all of you leave messages and continue this string of support, I dare not guess how long it will be. Thank you in advance for your support.

Sincerely,
CDR Kevin Mooney
A CO's responsibility doesn't end just because his boat's in dry dock. With commanders (and crews) of this calibre, there's no wonder that the USN's submarine fleet is one of the best naval forces in history.


5 comments:

Bubblehead said...

Excellent comments, and good explanations of a lot of the items. I often forget that some of the visitors to my website aren't submariners, so I don't put in as many subtitles as I should. One thing I should clarify -- I can't verify that the people who put the comments on my page actually know anything or not; I leave them up if they look valid, but normally don't further comment on anonymous posts, nor do I encourage those "in the know" to do so... sometimes it just happens.

submandave said...

Don't know if I completely agree with the assesment made of the port tubes. While I have no doubt they are totally shot and likely either bend or compressed, the Navy photo that has been posted everywhere, including your blog, clearly show both tube shutters in place. If you look just below the large white mark where the paint goes from black to red you can clearly see the outer door for upper tube 1, with the lower below and slightly aft. It looks like the forward part of the upper door is severely bent in and the lower is only a little better, but hey, I could be missing something.

Zoe Brain said...

Submandave : Re your observations : Concur.

Bubblehead : Like everyone else in the business (my own is sometime Naval Combat System Architect) I have to be careful what I say. Like you, I can't vouch for any of the first-hand data, but I consider it both likely enough true, and harmless enough if true, to publish.

From the pennant number (711) I wasn't sure if she'd been given the VLS refit (Vertical Launchers for Tomahawk Missiles in and around the forward Ballast tanks). From the exposed volume, she certainly hasn't. But that's about all I feel comfy talking about - things which I have no personal knowledge of.

If I might make a suggestion, a piece by someone wearing the dolphins on the UNCLASS data about submarines would be a good article to write. My own experience has been universally on Donks of various vintages, nothing with a tea-kettle in the back. I also come from a RAN background, which like the RN spends rather more time on tactics and rather less on Nuclear Science. I won't say that the USN policy is wrong though, any crew that can get a boat back to harbour - pardon me, harbor - in that state is ipso facto pretty damn terrific.

As regards explanations - that's part of my job. Communicating with non-technical people on technical issues. Simplifying without over-simplifying. I'm not sure how good I am at it, but so far there's been no complaints.

M. Simon said...

I am a former Naval Nuke (DLG(N)-25 now in the bone yard, boo hoo). I was recently re-reading a biography of Rickover.

It was Rickover policy that all the crew in the engineering spaces plus Captain and exec be well trianed in nuke power. His thought was that you couldn't fight the ship to the limits unless you knew intimately its capabilities. Traing a captain in the capabilities of a ship in the middle of battle is the hard way to learn a lesson.

On a sub this is very important because you never know who will be next to a critical switch or valve in an emergency situation.

I work in aircraft power systems these days and I see a similar level of training in commercial air crew. If you are operating machinery (and a ship IS a machine) you need to know as much as possible about that machine. 99.9% of the time that info is useless. that other .1% is the difference between life and death.

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