USA TODAY US Edition

Experts out to solve sub mystery

They have theory on how Scorpion sank

- By Dan Vergano USA TODAY

Shipwreck disaster experts are calling for a deepsea expedition to a lost U.S. nuclear attack sub, the USS Scorpion, in an effort to verify a new theory on what caused the Cold War vessel to sink.

The Scorpion was lost May 22, 1968, killing 99 men, about 400 miles south of the Azores Islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The sub has been inspected by undersea recovery teams, including a visit in 1985 by oceanograp­her Robert Ballard before his team’s discovery of the Titanic shipwreck.

The cause of the sub’s loss remains hotly disputed. A Navy Court of Inquiry found “the cause of the loss cannot be definitive­ly ascertaine­d.”

“The families of those 99 men are still out there, and they want to know what happened,” says former U.S. naval officer Paul Boyne, who presented a new mechanical explanatio­n for the loss of the sub at a recent marine forensics symposium outside Washington.

Panelists at the event called for a summer expedition to the sub’s wreck, led by P.H. Nargeolet, another Titanic explorer, saying it might put to rest a multitude of theories about the Scorpion’s demise — ranging from a covert Soviet attack to a torpedo self-firing into the ship to a faulty trash disposal.

Evidence for a more mundane explanatio­n comes from the sub’s propeller shaft, Boyne says. Undersea photograph­s show it rests about 20 yards outside the wreck on the seafloor, about 11,220 feet underwater. Boyne suggests that rubber bearings holding the propeller shaft failed, putting stress on the coupling connecting it to the engine. The coupling’s bolts failed catastroph­ically during a deep test dive, the theory goes, spilling water into the sub too rapidly to allow ballast maneuvers to raise the ship to the surface.

As support, Boyne points to the loss in 1963 of the USS Thresher, the only other nuclear submarine lost by the Navy. The Thresher suffered a similar crushing end but retained its propeller shaft within its hull.

In its planned proposal to the Navy’s Naval History & Heritage Command in Washington, the team would send a robot sub to the wreck to photograph the displaced shaft.

The robot would send a small tethered camera into the ship’s engine room to examine the damage to the coupling bolts.

Because the sub carried two nuclear-tipped torpedoes and a nuclear reactor, the Navy has periodical­ly tested the water around the submarine for radiologic­al releases, at least as recently as 1998.

“What happened to the Scorpion isn’t so much a mystery, as a secret,” says Ed Offley, author of Scorpion Down: Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon, which argues for the covert Soviet sub attack explanatio­n.

Investigat­ors who start from technical documents related to the ship’s loss, typically differ with his interpreta­tion, he says, which was based on interviews with Navy personnel.

“It couldn’t hurt to have a documented expedition to Scorpion,” says Offley, who is not a member of the proposed expedition team.

On May 27, 1968, family members of the USS Scorpion’s crew waited on a Norfolk dock for the return of the submarine.

At least 11 of them have joined in the call for the expedition.

 ?? By Lt. John R. Holland via U.S. Naval Historical Center ?? Lost at sea: The USS Scorpion sails near Naples, Italy, on April 10, 1968. The Scorpion was lost with all hands.
By Lt. John R. Holland via U.S. Naval Historical Center Lost at sea: The USS Scorpion sails near Naples, Italy, on April 10, 1968. The Scorpion was lost with all hands.
 ?? By Julie Snider, USA TODAY ??
By Julie Snider, USA TODAY
 ??  ?? Deep-sea wreckage: The USS Scorpion rests on the ocean floor in more than 11,000 feet of water.
Deep-sea wreckage: The USS Scorpion rests on the ocean floor in more than 11,000 feet of water.

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