At 9:18 a.m. on April 10, 1963, sonar operators aboard the U.S. Navy submarine rescue ship Skylark, which was accompanying the nuclear attack submarine Thresher, heard a chilling sound “like air rushing into an air tank,” and Thresher was no more. Its deep-dive trials southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, had come to a cataclysmic end and all 129 men aboard perished in 8,400 feet (2,560 meters) of water.
Five minutes prior to the implosion, Thresher had radioed that it was having minor problems. Skylark received several fragmentary, garbled messages, followed by silence. Moments later the chilling sounds of a submarine breaking apart and imploding were heard.
According to U.S. military reviews of the accident, the most likely explanation is that a piping joint in a sea water system in the engine room gave way. The resulting spray shorted out electronics and forced an automatic shutdown of the nuclear reactor.
When the accident occurred, Thresher was near its maximum test depth, which, though classified, was probably around 1,300 feet (396 meters). Most submarines are built to survive down to a “crush depth,” which can be 20 to 35 percent greater than their maximum test depth. However, without the reactor, the sub would not have had enough power to stop itself from sinking to the bottom.
As they sank, the men aboard would have heard piping and fittings giving way. They would have listened as the ship’s hull creaked and groaned, until it finally, deafeningly gave way to massive water pressure. All lives were likely extinguished within a matter of seconds.
The reason I am remembering this today is because I happen to run into one of our mutual friends at the time our friend was killed. It was very nice to see him and talk to him again and blab about old times and sweet memories.