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Monday, August 15, 2016

USS Oriskany

    The sunken aircraft carrier USS Oriskany is the largest artificial reef in the world. Built shortly after World War II, the “Mighty O” served primarily in the Pacific, earning two battle stars for service in the Korean War and ten battle stars for service in the Vietnam War.
     The Oriskany was sunk in 2006, 22 miles south of Pensacola, Florida in over 200 feet of water. Nicknamed “the Great Carrier Reef,” the site is one of the most popular diving destinations in the United States. Water depth to the top of the ship is 80 feet, and the flight deck is at 145 feet. 
     The Oriskany was a 27,100 ton Ticonderoga class aircraft carrier built at the New York Navy Yard. Launched in October 1945, construction was suspended in August 1947 and finally completed to a revised and modernized design. It had a crew of nearly 3500 and 80 aircraft. 
     The Oriskany was one of the ships used as a show of force by President Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and it was the carrier from which Senator John McCain launched his plane before being shot down over Vietnam. He was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for five and a half years. 
     The Oriskany was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea between May and October 1951 and steamed around Cape Horn to join the Pacific Fleet in May 1952. It made one Korean War combat cruise from September 1952 to May 1953. After the end of the Korean War the Oriskany continued its Pacific Fleet service for more than twenty years. 
     It was out of commission from January 1957 until March 1959, during which time it was modernized with a new angled flight deck, steam catapults, an enclosed "hurricane" bow and many other improvements that permitted safer operation of high-performance aircraft.
     Oriskany's service in Vietnam began in 1965 when its planes hit targets in North and South Vietnam. Several more combat tours followed as the Southeast Asian conflict waxed and waned. On October 26, 1966, during its second Vietnam War deployment a fire ravaged its forward compartments, killing 44 crew members. The fire erupted on the starboard side of the ship's forward hangar bay and raced through five decks, killing 44 men, many of whom were veteran combat pilots who had flown raids over Vietnam a few hours earlier. A magnesium parachute flare exploded in the forward flare locker of Hangar Bay 1 as a result of human error. A seaman accidentally ignited the flare, panicked and threw it into the weapons locker where the flares were kept for storage, instead of throwing it over the side. The result was all the flares in the locker ignited. Crewmen jettisoned heavy bombs and planes were wheeled out of danger and it took three hours bring the fire under control. 
     One former commanding officer, retired Captain John Iarrobino, who was in command at the time of the fire eventually cleared the record. Iarrobino said the Navy Board of Investigation, in its haste to find a cause for the fire, prematurely blamed it on two crew members who were later court-martialed for mishandling the flares and starting the fire. Several other crew members and officers received letters of reprimand.  Iarrobinoblamed  the Navy for its haste and for not doing a thorough investigation. He said the board should have acted "without the desire to serve someone's head on a silver platter."  An investigation of the flares' manufacturer later revealed the true cause of the fire was a defect in one of the flares that caused it to trigger the blaze.  All court-martials were repealed and letters of reprimand rescinded.  The ship was repaired in the U.S. and returned to the war zone in mid-1967. 
     Following twenty-six years of service, USS Oriskany was decommissioned in September 1976, was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1989 and sold for scrap in 1994, but it took nearly 10 years to determine its final disposition. After nearly two years of delays caused by hurricanes and permit issues the USS Oriskany was sunk on May 17, 2006, to become the world's largest intentionally created artificial reef. 
    It was towed to the a site about 22 miles offshore of Pensacola, Florida. The Navy used more than 500 pounds of plastic explosives in controlled charges to blow holes in the carrier. When it sank, the bow lifted into the air, the flight deck slipped; it took just 37 minutes. The ship rests in 212 feet of water with the flight deck is at 130 feet.  Watch it sink.

Gold Coast Scuba offers scuba trips to visit the ship.