The Navy is retiring a submarine that miraculously survived a terrifying collision
By Sam Fellman
SAN DIEGO (Feb. 9, 2015) Sailors assigned to the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711) stand on the bridge as it arrives pierside following a seven-month deployment. San Francisco executed the Chief of Naval Operations' maritime strategy in supporting national security interests and maritime security operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kyle Carlstrom/Released)
Sailors and former crewmembers bid farewell at a Friday ceremony to the attack submarine that survived a devastating 2005 collision and would go on to serve another decade, including four more deployments.
The submarine San Francisco is being retired from the fleet after 35 years of service and will shift to Norfolk later this month to become a nuclear reactor training ship.
A look at its traumatic history:
The San Francisco 49ers cheerleaders visited their city's namesake submarine in 2004.Photo Credit: PH2 Dennis C. Cantrell/NavyThe submarine spent most of its 35 years of service in the Pacific. It was based in Pearl Harbor in 2004 when the San Francisco 49ers cheerleaders stopped by for a tour.
The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS San Francisco sits in a dry dock in Santa Rita, Guam Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005 for the assessment of damage sustained after running aground approximately 350 miles south of Guam Jan. 8, 2005. Photo Credit: Mark Allen Leonesio/NavyOn Jan. 8, 2005, the submarine struck an underwater mountain going nearly full speed. The violent collision slammed sailors into bulkheads and equipment. One crewmember recalled chaos and carnage from the impact, which was like hitting a cement wall at 40 mph. The shocked chief of the watch leaped back into action and actuated the emergency ballast tanks, bringing the sub to the surface from a depth of about 500 feet.
Two sailors, including Hospital Corpsman 1st Class James Akin, received the Meritorious Service Medal for treating crewmembers injured in the collision.Photo Credit: Jesse Leon Guerrero/NavyThe force of impact killed Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Joseph Ashley and wounded dozens more. Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SS) James Akin and another crewmember later received the Meritorious Service Medal for setting up an emergency triage center and caring for 70 injured shipmates.
The sub's bow was repaired in Guam in 2005 and then it headed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for more repairs. It would take nearly three years to fix the extensive damages.Photo Credit: U.S. NavyThe impact crushed the submarine’s bow and caused at least $88 million in damages. A command investigation faulted the submarine’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Kevin Mooney, and his navigation team for failing to properly chart a safe voyage plan. They transited an area filled with undersea volcanoes when they could have avoided the area and also failed to take additional precautions, like more frequent soundings to check depth changes. It would take the better part of three years to return the San Francisco to operational service.
The crew returned to San Diego from the submarine's final deployment on Oct. 14.Photo Credit: PO2 Derek A. Harkins/NavyCrews would take the submarine on at least four more deployments. They returned to cheers in San Diego from their final cruise on Oct. 14. Later in November, the submarine will head to Norfolk for a two-year conversion to become a moored training ship, where future submariners will learn to safely operate nuclear reactors and engineering systems.
"By any measure, the San Francisco has had a stellar career as an operational submarine," said Cmdr. Jeff Juergens, the outgoing commanding officer, in a Nov., 4 ceremony in San Diego. "I've been extremely fortunate to be one of the few to command this fine submarine, and especially lucky to get to command San Francisco for the last three years, which have been so successful."