The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

April 7, 2013

U.S. sub sinking 50 years ago led to safety changes

KITTERY, Maine — The first sign of trouble for the USS Thresher was a garbled message about a “minor difficulty” after the nuclear-powered submarine descended to about 1,000 feet on what was supposed to be a routine test dive off Cape Cod.

Minutes later, the crew of a rescue ship made out the ominous words “exceeding test depth” and listened as the sub disintegrated under the crushing pressure of the sea. Just like that, the Thresher was gone, along with 129 men.

Fifty years ago, the deadliest submarine disaster in U.S. history delivered a blow to national pride during the Cold War and became the impetus for safety improvements. To this day, some designers and maintenance personnel listen to an audio recording of a submarine disintegrating to underscore the importance of safety.

“We can never, ever let that happen again,” said Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, an engineer and former submariner who now serves as commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C.

This weekend, hundreds who lost loved ones when the Thresher sank will gather at memorial events in Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine.

Built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, and based in Groton, Conn., the first-in-class Thresher was the world’s most advanced fast attack submarine when it was commissioned in 1961.

Featuring a cigar-shaped hull and nuclear propulsion, the 278-foot-long submarine could travel underwater for unlimited distances. It could dive deeper than earlier submarines, enduring pressure at unforgiving depths. It was designed to be quieter, to avoid detection.

On April 10, 1963, the submarine already had undergone initial sea trials and was back in the ocean about 220 miles off Cape Cod, Mass., for deep-dive testing. Some submariners are baffled by the initial message about a minor difficulty because it’s believed a brazed joint on an interior pipe had burst — a problem anything but minor.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Nation/World
  • At mudslide scene, Obama mourns with survivors

    OSO, Wash. — Swooping over a landscape of unspeakable sadness and death, President Barack Obama took an aerial tour Tuesday of the place where more than three dozen people perished in a mudslide last month. He pledged a nation’s solidarity ...

    April 23, 2014

  • GM, lawyers fight over protections

    DETROIT — General Motors Co. and a battalion of trial lawyers are preparing for an epic court fight over whether GM is liable for the sins of its corporate past. The company is asking a U.S. bankruptcy court to shield it from legal claims ...

    April 23, 2014

  • Boston Marathon One year after tragedy, 32,000 run Boston Marathon

    BOSTON — Some ran to honor the dead and wounded. Others were out to prove something to the world about their sport, the city or their country. And some wanted to prove something to themselves....

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Festivities, tight security before race

    BOSTON — In many ways, it felt like any other pre-marathon Sunday in Boston....

    April 21, 2014

  • Boston race makes room for those affected by bombs

    BOSTON — “I need to run.” The messages started arriving just hours after the bombings, pleading for an entry into the 2014 Boston Marathon. For months the calls and emails continued, runners begging for an opportunity to cross the finish ...

    April 21, 2014

  • Documents detail another delayed GM recall for failed power steering

    DETROIT — General Motors waited years to recall nearly 335,000 Saturn Ions for power steering failures despite getting thousands of consumer complaints and more than 30,000 warranty repair claims, according to government documents released ...

    April 20, 2014

  • Landslide devouring part of Wyoming town

    JACKSON, Wyo. — A slow-motion disaster continued unfolding in the Wyoming resort town of Jackson on Saturday, as a creeping landslide that split a hillside home threatened to swallow up more houses and businesses. The ground beneath the ...

    April 20, 2014

  • Questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

    Travelers at Asian airports have asked questions about the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Here are some of them, followed by answers. Samuel Rogers is a 20-year-old ...

    April 20, 2014

  • NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs....

    April 20, 2014

  • Hostage French journalists in Syria freed

    PARIS — Four French journalists held hostage in Syria for 10 months have been released, officials said Saturday, the latest batch of reporters to be freed in what has become the world’s deadliest conflict for the media....

    April 20, 2014