Reprinted with permission from the New London Day of December 9, 2000.
Groton – During a just-ended repair period, USS PROVIDENCE became the sixth U.S. Navy submarine equipped to use new survival gear that can bring a Sailor up 600 feet or more from a disabled boat. On Friday, Commander Scott B. Bawden watched as the last 17 members of his crew were trained to use the suits.
As he watched them bobbing in fluorescent orange suits in the 90 degree water of the dive training pool in Momsen Hall at the Naval Submarine Base, Bawden, the captain of PROVIDENCE, compared it to training men to fire Tomahawk missiles or torpedoes-you hope you will never have to use the skills.
“There’s a lot of parts of this job that people don’t want to dwell on. But you can’t deny that there are risks in what we do, and we have to be prepared,” said Bawden. “Survivability is very important these days, because we’re spending a lot more time in shallow water.”
By 2007, all attack and missile submarines are expected to have the Submarine Escape and Immersion Equipment. The Navy is planning to adapt its escape trainers at the base to the new standards by 2002, and construct a 50 foot dive tower on the base for training in the suits by 2006 or 2007.
In addition, the Navy is considering designating a commando team to specialize in submarine rescue, and putting an aircraft on constant standby with rafts, medical supplies, food, and other equipment that could be rushed to the scene of any submarine disaster.
Instructors made each of the men don one of the practice suits and get into a life raft. Machinist Mate Second Class Roger M. Squires got hung up a little when his raft was flipped by one of the instructors, but quickly got it righted and climbed back in.
“I’ve done some kayaking, and I’ve flipped in them, so that’s what I thought about when it was happening,” Squires said. He
said the survival gear is considerably better than the Steinke hoods that are being replaced, and the training is a lot better as well; when he was trained as a submariner he got to don a Steinke hood in a classroom, not a pool.
“If it was shallow water in a warm place, it wouldn’t be too bad,” Squires said. But he added with a grin, “if it was cold, deep water, I wouldn’t want to leave the boat too early.”
Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Robert T. Sandoval, who taught Friday’s class, agreed that the new suits should only be used as a last resort, if there is no chance the crew can survive until a rescue can be mounted, but he said the suits increase the chances that a crew will survive.
But he also noted that of 170 peacetime submarine sinkings since 1910, 19 out of every 20 involved accidents in water that was shallow enough for the submarine to survive the descent. But escape, even from relatively shallow depths, is dangerous.
In August 1988 the Peruvian submarine PACOCHA, the fonner USS ATULE, sank in less than 140 feet of water. Of 22 crewman trapped on board, 20 suffered decompression problems, and two more were killed when they tried a free ascent.
Steinke hoods provide a covering for a Sailor’s head only , but they could easily be filled with water if the Sailor became inverted, and they provided no protection against hypothermia, a real concern in the northern Atlantic waters that submarines frequent, because water chills 24 times faster than air at the same temperature.
“The Steinke hood was designed to get you to the surface, and it worked, “Bawden said. “But once you got there, you had to find your own way to survive.”
The new gear, which folds into a pouch smaller than the backpacks carried on most high school campuses, contains a bright yellow thermal suit worn under the orange exterior garb, and a one-man inflatable life raft attached to the left leg.
Sandoval warned the Sailors they have to exit the escape trunk quickly, because they can get the bends, which is always painful and is potentially fatal, if they ascend too quickly after being pressurized for even a short time. At 600 feet, you have about 30 seconds from the time you start pressurizing the escape trunk until you have to be on your way to the surface, he said.
“Don’t hold your breath-breath normally, relax, and enjoy the ride-it’s going to be the best one you ever had, 11 Sandoval said. Since the suits are inflated, Sailors bob to the surface at a rate of about 725 feet per minute.
“It feels unnatural for a diver,” said Hull Technician Second Class Travis Swink, one of the instructors who tried out the suits in a 100 foot dive tower in Great Britain. “Our whole career we’re taught to follow a certain feet-per-minute ascent rate, and with this thing you’re just screaming to the surface. ”
One advantage of the SEIE gear, said Chief Boatswain’s Mate Barry Hurst, is that they can be used as long as the hatch from the escape trunk isn’t in the mud. Some of the rescue vehicles in use today cannot hook up to a submarine that is at a sharp angle on the bottom.
“If the hatch can be opened, you can make an escape,” Hurst said. “The angle is almost irrelevant.”
After an escape, he said, crew members should tie their rafts together, the instructors said.
MIDWAY MEMORIAL FOUNDATION
The International Midway Memorial Foundation is affirming a 7 night Waikiki tour May 29-June S, 2001. The tour highlights are:
- Hotel 7 nights
- First night cocktail party
- 3 lunches
- 2 day symposium on Battle of Midway
- Ceremony at USS BOWFIN/Museum
- Midway night dinner on USS MISSOURI honoring Battle of Midway submarine heroes
B.F. Tours, 6900 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 204, Chevy Chase, MD 20815; (301) 718-1004 or (800) 966-7269; fax (301) 718-1008; e-mail: email@example.com.
CONTACTS FOR BOAT REUNIONS
The following submarines will be having reunions during the 2001 National Convention of United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. on 11-16 September 2001 in Peoria, IL.
|USS ANDREW JACKSON||Sam Eddy||500 E. Warren LeRoy, IL 61572 (309) 962-2509|
|USS BLACKFIN||Don Brown||13730 Algonquin Dr. Reno, NV 89511-7220 (775) 853-5309|
|DFASs||Rick Rowe||736 Juniper St Twin Falls, ID 83301 (208) 734-6540|
|USS DIODON||Glenn Boothe||4281 Ralph Lane N. Fresno, CA 93727 (550) 291-5330|
|Don Remily||30860 Oakslream Lane Lebanon, MO 65536 (417) 532-1676|
|USS FLASHER||Larry Weinfuner||9332 Vennillion St. Milladore, WI 54454-9700 (715) 853-5309|
|USS GEORGE WASHINGTON||Walt Liss||SS Miller Road Preston, CT 06365-8516 (860) 886-9268|
|USS MEDREGAL||Mike Burkholder||3201 Center Sr. Greensboro, NC 27407 (336) 854-3730|
|USSODAX||Rudy Diaz||709 Alexander Drive O’Fallon, IL 62269-6134 (618) 632-8566|
|USSODAX||Ron Gibson||640 Gennessee St. San Francisco, CA 94127- 2333 (415) 239-5490|
|USS PLUNGER||Lou Maruzo||105 Aviary St. Warrenton, VA 20186- 3637|
|Dave Patrick||P.O. Box 2436 Hollister, CA 95024 (734) 516-3187 (cell)|
|USS RONQUIL||Richard Osenroski||3701 Brookshire Trenton, Ml 48183 (734) 671-3439|
|USS SAILFISH||Glenn Jackson||249 South Streel Medfield, MA 02052-3108 (508) 359-8588|
|USS SALMON||L.T. Mick (COB)||2075 County Rd. 24 Kemper, TX 76359|
|USS SCORPION||Dene Rogers||2012 Guardfish St Silverdale, WA 98315 (360) 396-4111|
|USS SEA LION||John Clear||2800 Applcwood Ln #29 Eugene, OR 97408-1542 (541) 4846483|
|USS SEA OWL||Roy Purtell||4 Garden Cr. Troy, NY 12180 (518) 272-8614|
|USS SEADRAGON||Ron Waldron||915 Chula Ct. Lady Lake, FL 32159 (352) 753-!5393|
|“Tiger” Scheide||3008 Wolf Creek Road Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423|
|USS SEAFOX||George Arnold||822 Wester Air Drive Jefferson City, MO 65109 (!573) 635-6033|
|USS TAUTOG||George Boyle||2541 Tarkiln Oaks Dr. Pensacola, FL 32506 (850) 492-3781|
|USS TIGRONE||Frank Hill||895 S. Indiana Ave. French Lick, IN 47432 (812) 936-2892|
|USS TRUMPETFISH||Bob Berry||630 S. Judson, Ft. Scott, KS 66701-2325 (316) 223-6789|