Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How American nuclear submarine came close to 'catastrophe' during fatal incident off Devon - 22nd June 2011

A U.S. nuclear submarine came within feet of running aground as it left Plymouth naval base, a report has found.

The drama unfolded as the USS Minneapolis-St Paul entered rough seas and tried to take evasive action resulting in five crewmen being swept overboard, two of whom died.

Chief Petty Officer Thomas Higgins and Petty Officer Michael Holtz were attached to the submarine with safety lines and had been helping the habour pilot to disembark when the submarine changed direction.

They died as they were repeatedly pounded 'like rag dolls' against the hull by the force of 20ft waves. The three other crew members were later rescued.

The 2007 Royal Navy report into the incident, released this week under the Freedom of Information Act, said that the 110m-long, 6,000 ton vessel, 'came within less than her own length' of hitting rocks and becoming stuck with 'catastrophic consequences' as she turned to get back into protected waters.

The report said that the incident, which came as the Devonport harbour pilot was trying to disembark the submarine, was largely the fault of the vessel's commanding officer Commander Edwin Ruff.

But it also criticised a lax safety culture at the naval base, the largest in Western Europe, including failing to heed warnings after a similar but non-fatal accident involving British submarine HMS Sovereign the previous February. Read More