The USS Thresher (SSN-593) Disaster – Death of a Nuclear-Powered Submarine

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Date and Time: 
Monday, May 21, 2018 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Speaker: 
Dr. Bernard Stancati

In the early morning of April 10, 1963, the USS Thresher (SSN-593) was about 190 miles off the coast of Cape Cod Massachusetts making preparations to begin a deep dive test. Accompanying her was the surface rescue ship USS Skylark. At approximately 7:47AM the Thresher began a series of maneuvers that would take her to test depth.

Things were going as planned until 9:13AM, when the Skylark received the following message: “We are experiencing minor difficulties, we have a positive up angle and are attempting to blow. Will keep you informed.” At 9:16 and 9:17AM, respectively, the crew of the Skylark then received two garbled messages, before detecting a high energy disturbance that was the crushing of the Threshers hull.  All 129 people on board, along with the boat, were lost.


This peace-time disaster was one of the worse in US Naval history and shook the US Naval Submarine Community to its core. So what went wrong, what was the cause of the disaster, what were the findings of the court-of-inquiry, what were some of the lessons learned, and what are the two theories that attempt to explain the sinking? Via his presentation, Dr. Stancati will attempt to provide answers to these and other questions, along with possibly raising some additional ones, so come and see. In addition, this is also a personal journey for Dr. Stancati because a relative was one of the 129 souls that went down with the ship on that fateful day.  

The USS Thresher, SNN-593, was constructed during the very early 1960s at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery Maine. She was the first of a new class of nuclear-powered fast attack submarines, designed for optimum performance of sonar and weapons systems. At that time the Thresher was able to dive deeper and run quieter than any current class of submarine. Launched on July 9, 1960, she was commissioned on August 3, 1961. On April 10, 1963, after a long period of tests and sea-trials, the Thresher was preparing to complete one final test, a dive to test depth. At around 9:13AM the surface rescue ship USS Skylark received a garbled communication, via an underwater sound telephone, that the Thresher was experiencing some trouble. Two more garbled communications were received at 9:16AM and 9:17AM respectively, followed by a high energy, low frequency disturbance. This sound was the crushing of the Thresher’s hull as she had slipped below crush depth. All 129 souls on board were lost.

The program will start out by examining the early career of the Thresher to include some of the ups and downs that accompany any new class of boat. Next, the discussion will address the series of events that lead to its sinking on the morning of April 10, 1963, the search and recovery operation that followed, the court-of inquiry that was ordered convened, including its findings and recommendations. A portion of the discussion will also be dedicated to addressing some of the lessons learned and proposed recommended changes to US Navy nuclear-submarine construction and operations, along with an alternate theory for why the Thresher was lost. Finally there will be epilog summation of this tragic event, along with a memorial to the 129 lives lost, followed by a question and answer period. 

 

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