Friday, May 25, 2012

Still Remembering

It's now been more than seven years since this tragedy, but the memory is still strong.  I started this blog to memorialize MM2(SS) Ashley's unwanted sacrifice.  It seems important, with Memorial Day just a few days away, to once again post. 

There is not much new news- the story is pretty well out there.  I see the blog has been viewed many thousands of times, including regularly even seven years after the disaster.  I saw regular posts in the memorial guest book by submariners and their families.  I noted one post indicating questions about Ashley in a submarine qualification board, leading me to believe he is well remembered in the active duty force.

My own two sons are both in Submarine Force today- one on a boomer, so far away in Washington state, the other now at a new-construction boat in Newport News, but going back to sea within a year.  I cannot imagine the thought of such a wreck as San Francisco ever happening with one of my sons on it.

MM2(SS) Joey Ashley is a hero who gave the ultimate.

Never forget....

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sub damaged in fatal crash rejoins fleet in S.D.

By Steve Liewer
Union-Tribune Staff Writer
2:00 a.m. July 5, 2009


Navy Petty Officers Robert Hutson (left) and Andrew Tillman are the only two crewmen who have remained with the submarine San Francisco since its 2005 crash. (Eduardo Contreras / Union-Tribune) - Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph "Joey" Ashley, 24, was killed in the 2005 submarine accident.

The attack submarine San Francisco was put in dry dock in Guam to assess damage after it hit an undersea mountain in January 2005. The impact crushed the boat's sonar dome and punched holes in the forward ballast tanks. (Mark Allen Leonesio / U.S. Navy)

The reconstructed San Francisco arrived in San Diego, its new home port, in April after repairs that involved removing its front end and replacing it with the bow of a sister sub. (Courtesy photo)

Almost two weeks after the Navy submarine San Francisco struck an undersea mountain, Dan and Vicki Ashley visited a dry dock in Guam to view the shredded bow of the boat on which their 24-year-old son died.

Even in their grief, the couple marveled that a sub so badly damaged could have limped 360 miles back to port.

“We said: 'How did she survive? Why didn't she sink to the bottom?' ” Dan Ashley said last week, reflecting on the Jan. 8, 2005, accident. “I told the admiral, 'We'll see victory when we see that submarine back in service.' ”

The impact tossed most of the San Francisco's 137 crewmen around a cramped interior filled with jagged edges. Ninety-seven were injured, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph “Joey” Ashley – who had stopped for a smoke break in the lower engine room – suffered a fatal skull fracture.
Four and a half years later, the San Francisco has rejoined the fleet in its new home port of San Diego. It took an unprecedented repair that involved cutting off the submarine's front end and transplanting about 50 feet – more than 1 million pounds of metal – from the bow of a retired sister sub, the Honolulu.


The price tag: $134 million to fix a boat that easily could have sunk.

“It's a testament to the robust design,” said Capt. Brett Genoble, commander of San Diego-based Submarine Squadron 11. “It's tough for me to believe you can have a more significant collision than that.”

The San Francisco arrived at Point Loma Naval Base in mid-April, then returned to sea for drills almost immediately. Now it's back pierside while workers upgrade many of the 28-year-old warship's electronics systems.

Nearly all of the crew members who survived the accident have moved on to other posts or left the Navy. But Petty Officers Robert Hutson and Andrew Tillman have stayed with the San Francisco through the tragedy and reconstruction. Both extended their tours so they could return to sea with it.

“I just wanted to see it through,” said Hutson, 34, a petty officer first class from Cleveland.
He and Tillman joined the Navy in 2004 and boarded the sub at its home port in Guam in December of that year, just a few weeks before it left on the ill-fated cruise.


They joined a boat that had suffered a troubled reputation because of subpar inspections before Cmdr. Kevin Mooney took over as skipper in December 2003.

“He came in and kind of turned the boat around,” said Tillman, 29, of Augusta, Ga. “It really put us on the map.”

As a reward, the crew earned a liberty cruise to Brisbane, Australia. The vessel departed Jan. 7, 2005, and headed full speed toward the Caroline Islands southeast of Guam.

At 11:42 a.m. the following day, some of the sailors had begun to line up outside the mess deck for a lunch of hamburgers, french fries and baked beans.

The duty watch had just changed, and Hutson was in the machinery room going over paperwork with a shipmate.

Then the boat hit a bump.

“We had the first little shudder, and then a second one,” Hutson said. “The second hit, I said, 'We're in trouble.' ”

The San Francisco, cruising at 38 mph, ground to a halt, throwing Hutson several feet and slamming him against some machinery. Two officers fell in front of him.

In the control room, Tillman was studying reference manuals on a computer. The impact slammed him into a nearby post as lockers flew open.

“At first I thought it wasn't that big a deal,” Tillman said. “Then I felt my head. It was bloody.”
The impact crushed the San Francisco's sonar dome and punched holes in the forward ballast tanks. But the inner hull, which contained the crew compartment and nuclear reactors, held fast.


The crew initiated an “emergency blow,” which released huge amounts of high-pressure air into the ship's main ballast tanks. After an agonizing pause, the boat slowly rose 525 feet to the surface.

A shipmate took Tillman to the mess deck, where a corpsman and an officer with medical training set up a makeshift aid station amid the blood and debris.

“Food was everywhere, plates, broken dishes,” Tillman said. “I remember seeing people unconscious on the tables.”

One of them was Ashley, a sailor with West Virginia roots who was known as “Cooter,” after a character from television's “Dukes of Hazzard.”

Word quickly spread among the crew that Ashley was in rough shape. Someone plugged in a CD of Hank Williams Jr., Ashley's favorite musician. Tillman, who escaped with a mild concussion, held his shipmate's hand and prayed for him.

The tight quarters made it difficult to get Ashley off the boat to a helicopter that could take him to a hospital in Guam. Crewmen spent the night removing railings and lockers to clear a path to the only hatch considered safe to open.

The next morning, they threaded Ashley's stretcher through small compartments and up narrow ladders, but the bridge hatch wouldn't open far enough to let it out. Some of his shipmates cursed and cried in frustration.

Cooter died without regaining consciousness, 25½ hours after the accident.

It took two days for the San Francisco to crawl back to Guam. There, the crew – and later the Ashleys – first saw the astonishing damage to the ship's outer hull.

After patchwork repairs, the sub eventually went to the naval shipyard in Bremerton, Wash. The Navy resisted scrapping the San Francisco, commissioned in 1981, because its nuclear reactors had finished an expensive midlife refueling process less than three years earlier.

The Naval Sea Systems Command instead decided to scrap the Honolulu, which was four years younger but had not been refueled. It devised the bow transplant, which involved grafting the Honolulu's sonar dome and three ballast tanks onto the front of the San Francisco. Then workers painstakingly connected pipes, cables and control systems before welding the parts together.

A Navy investigation into the crash showed that the San Francisco's crew and the mission's shore-based planners had relied on a single set of charts commonly used by submariners that did not show the mountain. They did not consult other maps that indicated an undefined hazard in the area.

Mooney and five others received reprimands or demotions. Eighteen crewmen received awards for their heroic efforts to save the boat and crew.

For some sailors, the psychological wounds from the near disaster did not heal easily.
“It had a pretty traumatic effect,” Tillman said. “We had some people who thought they were OK. Then we had a drill. They heard all the alarms and they'd be a little twitchy.”


Like Tillman, Hutson decided to stay in the Navy. He said he felt cheated out of a trip Down Under.

“I want to go travel around the world,” Hutson said. “I want to go to Australia – on a boat.”
The Ashleys met Tillman, Hutson and the rest of the crew in April when the Navy flew the couple to San Diego to greet the San Francisco after its voyage from the repair yard in Bremerton.


“I was laughing with joy, having to hide my tears because I didn't want people to see me cry,” Dan Ashley said. “She came in under her own power, standing tall in the water, saying, 'Look at me – I'm good as new.' ”

Standing on the pier, he knew Joey would have wanted him to be there.

“That sub will always be our boat,” he said. “But I wish my son were still on board.”


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Steve Liewer: (619) 498-6632; steve.liewer@uniontrib.com
Steve Liewer: (619) 498-6632;

Monday, January 07, 2008

USS San Francisco 3 years later

A post on Rontini's BBS (www.messdeck.com/forum) from MM2 Ashley's father, copied here to preserve it.

The events of January 8th, 2005 will forever remain a major turning point in our lives. As we reflect back on the accident involving the USS San Francisco SSN 711 and consider all that has happened since, it has certainly been humbling. We think back to the many doors that the Navy Submarine Force generously opened and have remained open. We think back of all the unending support and kindness of all the SUBVETS. Last year we got to hear our son’s name called out during the “Tolling of the Boats” at the Nautilus Museum. It was such an honor. I personally thank you all for opening your family to me and answering a lot of my sometimes ignorant questions. The way I got it figured, in about ten or twelve more years I’ll be legally qualified to wear my Dolphins. He! He! He!

A couple weeks ago I spoke to the XO of the USS San Francisco and he said the work is going well and right on schedule. I try to keep close tabs. We hope to go out there this fall to see her leave the yards and become seaworthy again. We’re also planning a trip to Kings Bay this summer. Got some special SanFran folks we got to see. We just had a wonderful visit from one of Joey’s shipmates and looking forward to another shipmate who said he would be here about March. Danny Hagar said he will be here this fall. If you here about him missing or possibly being abducted, we are the ones that will have him. He! He! As I’ve said many times, if any of you pass close to Charleston or Parkersburg, W. Va., look us up. We are here in Spencer, W.Va.

Again, thank you my friends for your continued support. God has certainly overflowed the void in our lives with some very special folks.

God Bless all of you, Dan & Vicki Ashley

Monday, December 24, 2007

On Watch

Figured I should post something here just to let viewers know this is still an active blog. Don't post much, but I still think about MM2 Ashley from time to time as a fallen brother, particularly when I think about my son currently at sea aboard USS Wyoming (a Trident class submarine.)

I know people who care still regularly visit this blog, and you can see many recent posts in the Joseph Ashley guestbook. We hear occasionally from Dan Ashley on the Rontini BBS, so know that his family is getting along OK, though I'm sure Christmas time will be more difficult.

A Christmas prayer for all those currently on patrol and for the families and loved ones of all who have departed on final patrol.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

CDR Mooney's Retirement Speech

Posted by CDR Kevin Mooney, USN (Ret.) on Sat - Mar 25 - 2006

Good Afternoon, before I get into the guts of my remarks I want to spend a few moments acknowledging the people who made this special day possible.

To Laura McNett and Bob Crann at the Fleet Reserve Association – thanks so much for the use of the clubhouse. I cannot think of a more appropriate place to host this event. And don’t worry, I’ve had a few words with the boys and told them to go easy after the ceremony.

To all of my former shipmates, particularly Senior Chief Rob Enquist and Chief Tom Riley, and the rest of today’s ceremony participants. You are my brothers in arms.

To my fellow Veterans, I have reserved a special place in my heart for all of you. I have enjoyed interacting with you throughout my career, and I can never repay the debt of loyalty and support that you extended to me not only in my time of personal crisis, but also as I have worked through the transition to civilian life.

To all my family and friends who traveled great distances to be here today – words cannot do justice to the depth of my gratitude for you making such a monumental effort just to see me say goodbye to the Navy. I look forward to thanking you in a more personal way later today.
There are a few more people who I must mention by name. The two men sitting on the stage with me, Karl Hasslinger and Hass Moyer, and your lovely wives Donna and Katie. You all have taught me more about life, leadership, and friendship than any others. Also, my good friend Andy Hale who has just returned to the mainland from Guam. I’m truly blessed to have you as friends and I know we will continue our close relationships well beyond each others’ Navy years.

And of course, most important of all is my family: My brothers and sisters and my extended family, who are represented here today by two of my sisters, Kathy and Maureen, my Aunt Mary, and a cousin and Navy veteran himself, Neil Gallagher. My second family in Ireland, proudly represented today by the indomitable Joan D’Arcy, better known to the Western World simply as Mum. My Dad, who has cheered my Navy career from the sidelines for the past twenty years. And finally, my ladies, Avril, Laura and Tara. My speech would end abruptly if I even tried to explain out what my wife and kids mean to me. In short, you are my world, so we’ll leave it at that and I’ll get on with it –

I love the United States Navy. From the day I was sworn in as a midshipman with my good friend Bob Benford at the Duke University Navy ROTC program, the Navy has provided me one opportunity after another to lead a rewarding and fulfilling career and personal life. The Navy paid for my education at Duke that otherwise was well beyond my means as the fifth of seven children in a large Irish Catholic family from Long Island. After Duke, the Navy topped off my undergraduate education with its own special form of learning – nuclear power school. I hated it, and was happy to be shipped off to my first boat, USS BREMERTON based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Navy gives, but the Navy expects payback as well. As BREMERTON underwent an extended overhaul in Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, I processed hundreds of work permits and thousands of tagouts. I think it’s fair to say that I paid back the Navy for all its education and other opportunities.

There’s no place quite like a Navy shipyard. Let me give you one example of the types of serious problems I had to deal with in this environment: Nuclear power safety regulations dictate that we must have a precise status of the reactor plant at all times, so we maintain this large, laminated status board, which stands waist high right behind where the engineering duty officer conducts his daily business in the engine room. On this status board, we keep track of hundreds of valve positions with tiny grease pencil markings: an “x” means the valve is shut, and a “o” means the valve is open. Well, we kept losing status of valve positions and we couldn’t figure out why. We were always very diligent and formal in our communications and operating procedures. Finally, one day we noticed some black grease pencil markings on the backside of one of our more portly officers. Being well-trained in the art of “root cause determination” – Brad Buswell and I soon discovered it was a big butt that was getting us in trouble. I left these experiences much wiser and more astute, and fully ready for future assignments that would call on my problem solving skills.

All joking aside, I did learn a lot during my submarine first assignment. I had a great set of teachers on BREMERTON, including my first skipper, Red Dawg McMacken, who made a special point of spending many hours one-on-one with each of his officers. The effect was contagious, and that crew on BREMERTON was the most knowledgeable of all that I ever served with.

But we really need to look back at history to place my first submarine assignment into context. The Cold War was raging, and our Submarine Force was at its zenith in size and influence. Our exciting and relevant missions played a huge part in the eventual demise of the Soviet Union. I was lucky enough to participate in several of these missions on USS HONOLULU. At this time, submarines were universally acknowledged as one of our nation’s primary assets in the battle against communist tyranny.

So as my first sea tour came to a close, I was faced with the decision to either remain in the Navy or join the rank and file of everyday civilians. As already mentioned, I had repaid my debt to the Navy for the opportunities it had given me. In the end, it was not chasing Soviet submarines that drove my decision to stay in the Navy. It was something else – it was the opportunity to lead great people like the very Sailors who have honored me by showing up today. I came to recognize that I enjoyed leading men to accomplish difficult missions in challenging environments, so I set a new goal for myself: become the Captain of a nuclear submarine.

Next up was a shore assignment on exchange with the Royal Navy, which taught me that there were different, and in fact BETTER, ways of doing business than the US Navy way. During this assignment, I fought in the final stages of the Cold War from a busy headquarters directing US and Royal Navy submarines on special reconnaissance missions. I also managed special programs with our Dutch, Danish and German allies. In my plentiful free time – remember what I said about the Royal Navy having better ways than we Americans - my new wife Avril and I traveled throughout Europe.

Revitalized after two years with the Brits, my next assignment brought me back to Pearl Harbor, this time on a boat fresh from new construction and ready for operations, USS COLUMBUS. First as Combat Systems Officer and then as Engineer, I enjoyed great success with my COLUMBUS shipmates. Thanks to great people like Glenn Robinson, Tom Wieshar, Mike Heck and Tim Sielkop, we discovered how to achieve excellence while still maintaining the focus where it belonged: on the people. After over 3 years on COLUMBUS, I knew that one day the Navy would give me the opportunity to command a nuclear submarine.

However, there were more dues to pay before this would occur. After leaving COLUMBUS, I reported to the Pentagon, where I learned a new combat skill: powerpoint warfare. While in the Pentagon, I was fortunate enough to work in a position where I had access to senior submarine Admirals, who were faced difficult decisions affecting the future of our undersea fleet. Since the Cold War had ended, many submarines fell under the budget axe as part of the so-called “peace dividend.” Despite these hardships, we still won some important battles, such as authorizing a new class of fast attack submarines, known today as the VIRGINIA class, and figuring out what to do with 4 TRIDENT SSBNs that were due for early retirement, which today are being converted to SSGNs. My Pentagon experience challenged me in many new ways, but was valuable primarily in that it brought me into contact with Captain Karl Hasslinger and a slew of other top-notch naval officers.

I soon had my best view of the Pentagon – in my rear view mirror – and Avril and I accomplished yet another cross country move – this time to Bangor, Washington for my first exposure to the ballistic missile submarine community. On USS GEORGIA BLUE with Hass Moyer as my skipper, my XO tour was a blast. Hass patiently let me learn and grow into the job. He laughed off my minor administrative blunders, and set me loose to fix the nagging problem areas while he led from the front with a big stogey in his mouth. Hass always had his priorities straight and taught me look at all issues through the prism of leadership. We had a magical chemistry on that fine ship and GEORGIA BLUE quickly became the assignment of choice for Sailors on the Bangor waterfront.

Avril and I returned to England in 2001, this time for a truly international assignment on a NATO staff. Now some of you may think NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization - NOT TRUE. We never did settle on what the acronym NATO really denotes, but here were some of the contenders:- Not At The Office- Not After Two O’clock- No Action Talk Only, and my personal favorite:- Need Alcohol To OperateAll accurately describe NATO operations.
My most exciting day in NATO came when I received the phone call informing me of my next assignment: Commanding Officer of the USS City of Corpus Christi, based in Guam. Remember what I said about difficult missions in challenging environments? Well, I got it! And the mission would soon become even more difficult: COMSUBPAC re-directed me, along with several others, to the USS San Francisco.

Despite SAN FRAN’s recent troubles, it soon became clear that I had gotten a great deal. SAN FRAN had a top notch and enthusiastic crew. Sure, there was a lot of work to do, but we dug in our heels and drove forward despite some huge challenges, particularly with the ship’s material condition and the inadequacy of Guam as a submarine home port. In just over a year, we had made remarkable progress. We steamed over 7000 miles from Guam to San Diego replace our propulsion shaft in a submarine drydock unavailable in Guam. We persevered through numerous ship's casualties including several major freon ruptures, a major electrical fire, two hydraulic ruptures, and on and on. Just like the SAN FRAN Creed states, we never gave up. We fixed the material problems, disciplined ourselves to operate efficiently and effectively, and finally went to sea for extended periods to conduct special reconnaissance operations.

Just after being ranked as the best submarine in the Force in engineering readiness, we set off from Guam to Brisbane, Australia in January 2005. You all know how the cruel sea punished us during this journey, so I’ll bypass the details, but please allow me to shed some perspective on the events that followed. After suffering the worst possible shock in the history of nuclear submarine operations, every single Sailor on SAN FRANCISCO – yes, every single one – did his military duty. Some did much more than their duty and acted in truly heroic fashion: Matt Parsons, Craig Litty, Billy Cramer, Danny Hager, Jake Elder, Max Chia, Chris Baumhoff, Doc Akin, Gil Daigle, and more: Key, Miller, Pierce, Powell, Smoot, McDonald. I could go on. But one hero clearly stands above all the others, he was my favorite Sailor, and the one who I miss every day, Petty Officer Joey Ashley.

In the aftermath of our tragic grounding, we, the crew of SAN FRANCISCO, forged bonds that never can be broken: – not by investigations, nor Admiral’s Mast, nor punishments – not by grief, nor anger, nor sadness, and – never by distance, space, or timeWhy, you may ask, are these bonds so strong? Because as Chief Johnny Johnson surely would tell you, THERE ARE NO BONDS STRONGER THAN THOSE FORMED BY MEN WHO HAVE FACED DEATH TOGETHER.

And on a very personal level, there is something even more remarkable: even though it was I who brought harm upon my men through my own shortcomings, today this room is filled with my SAN FRANCISCO brothers. Shipmates, I shall never forget your courage and loyalty and I was proud to serve as your Commanding Officer.

My final year in the Navy was spent under the command, for the second time, of my good friend, Hass Moyer. Hass warmly welcomed me to his staff at the Trident Training Facility, and gave me the freedom to work on a few projects while recovering from the wounds inflicted by that deadly uncharted sea mount. Outside of work, I kayaked among the orcas, became a soccer dad, ran a marathon, and prepared for my next career. In my new job, I will continue doing what I love most: Lead people to accomplish difficult missions in challenging environments. Avril and I hope to settle down after our next move for a long time, and give Laura and Tara some stability through their school years. We intend to be active in our local community, and share our time and talents with those less fortunate than ourselves. But most of all, we intend to love each other and be happy, just like we have done throughout our wonderful 15 years of marriage.
Let me finish now where I started: I love the United States Navy. But now it’s time to move on. Master Chief Sielkop, I am ready to be relieved.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Anniversary Remembrance from Commanding Officer

Today marks one year since USS SAN FRANCISCO grounded and gives us reason to pause and remember our beloved shipmate, Cooter. We trusted, admired and loved him. After our accident, we did everything humanly possible to save him. Doc and the DCA provided non-stop medical treatment. His fellow A-Gangers innovatively devised a continuous oxygen supply from the ship’s oxygen banks. Other shipmates, some themselves who were seriously injured, took shifts to hold his hand and comfort his soul. The rest of us operated the ship – we fixed what we could, invented new procedures to re-align damaged systems, and determinedly drove the ship towards a rescue rendezvous. Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Seamen, Pilots, Airmen, Doctors, Corpsmen, supporting staff ashore, and countless others contributed to the rescue effort.

All the while, Cooter fought like the brave Sailor he was. Defying the odds, he lived far longer than expected for someone with his injuries. He peacefully left us the under the care of a Navy Doctor who had arrived aboard from a daring helicopter transfer just a few hours earlier. He then entered the realm of the Lord, where he currently awaits us all for our ultimate reunion.

To the whole Ashley family, you have shown the world the power of the true core values: faith, hope and love. While we grieved for our lost shipmate, your Christian hearts reached out and comforted us even though it was you who had lost a son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin. You have allowed us to move beyond the suffering and find redemption in Joey’s sacrifice and your loving forgiveness. Your family and our crew have become as one.

To Cooter, we miss you buddy. We’ll never forget you. Although thinking of you today brings tears to my eyes, I thank God we had the chance to meet and become shipmates. The impact of your marvelous life will continue to be felt for years to come – just look at your incredible Guest Book! Rest in peace, brother.

CDR Kevin Mooney
(Bremerton, WA )
mooneykav@alumni.duke.edu

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Sub crew's training paid off in disaster

By Katie Worth
Pacific Daily News
12 May 05

When the USS San Francisco slammed into a mountain more than 500 feet below the ocean's surface, 29-year-old medic James Akin was in the bathroom. Machinist Matthew Thurman, 21, was standing in line in the mess hall, waiting for lunch.

Suddenly, things seemed to explode around them. Deafening blasts, crunching noises and groans fulminated from the front of the ship. The vessel lurched, and crew members were thrown through the air, off their beds and against walls, tumbling against each other through the compartments of the submarine.

They had just experienced one of the biggest submarine disasters in the history of any navy.

Akin barely remembers thinking. He just remembers jumping to action, running out of the head and into the hallway. The petty officer was the only medically trained man on ship. Before he knew it, he had dozens of injured people on his hands. Half of the submarine's crew sustained wounds. Thurman was thrown from the lunch line and collided into a wall -- a wall he credits with saving him from far worse injuries. He immediately jumped up and ran toward the propulsion system, to check if there had been any damage.

The San Francisco and its 138 sailors had been in stealth mode, making their way from their home port here in Guam to Brisbane, Australia, for what was supposed to be a routine port visit. The ship made it only about 360 miles southeast of Guam at the time of the Jan. 8 accident, which would leave dozens of crew members injured and one dead.

In the moments after the crash, reports of injured sailors began pouring over the Intercom, crew members who were not wounded were running to their stations, and the submarine immediately conducted an emergency main ballast tank blow -- a procedure that pushes water out of tanks in the hull and causes an immediate, rapid ascent. Within a minute, they rose 500 feet to the surface of the water.

Interviewed yesterday, neither medic Akin nor machinist Thurman could remember even considering the cause of the accident at the time. It almost didn't matter. The moment they had been trained for in drill after drill, year after year, had finally arrived.

They both flew to their duty stations.

"Time just seemed to move slower than it had been; our training just kicked in," Thurman said yesterday, rubbing his hands together as he thought back on it. "And then, everything started to get faster again."

"The Navy invests a lot of time in training for emergencies, and it definitely paid off," he said.

Thurman ran toward the propulsion system, where he worked as a machinist. On his way, he passed injured friends lying in the hallways, unable to move. He began to kneel down to help them, but they waved him on.

"Everyone's only concern was saving the ship. I stopped to help people but they said, 'No, just go ahead, make sure the ship's OK,'" he said.

Meanwhile, Akin began setting up a makeshift infirmary in the enlisted men's mess hall. He alone on the ship had medical education, though he had trained a few men in basic medical treatments in case there was such an emergency.

Dozens of crew members began coming in with injuries -- broken bones, smashed faces, dislocated bones, head trauma, bruises, cuts, lacerations; in all, 70 sailors had sustained wounds.

But by far the worst injury Akin saw was that of Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Allen Ashley, he said. Ashley, who worked on the ship for three years, had been on a smoke break in the compartment farthest to the rear of the vessel. He had just left the smoke room and was walking across the next compartment when the accident occurred, Akin said. It sent him flying across the room, slamming him head first into a locker.

Once Akin saw the extent of Ashley's wounds, he evacuated the other injured sailors into another improvised infirmary and kept Ashley, who was still alive but critically injured, in the mess hall.

Hours later, a helicopter would bring a surgeon from Guam to try to treat Ashley, but it was to no avail. Ashley died the next day. It wasn't until several days later, Akin said, that he really had a chance to stop and contemplate the accident as a whole.

The Navy, however, didn't take so long, beginning an investigation into the cause of the accident immediately. Earlier this week, the Navy released the results of that four-month investigation.

The 124-page report determined that the accident possibly could have been avoided had the submarine's crew "complied with requisite procedures and exercised prudent navigation practices."

Though the report stated that nothing more could have been done to save Ashley, it stated that the accident possibly could have been prevented in the first place had the San Francisco's navigation crew heeded a navigation chart that indicated a "navigation hazard in the vicinity of the grounding," the report stated.

The report held the San Francisco's navigation team and leaders responsible for the accident. The vessel's commanding officer, Cmdr. Kevin Mooney, was removed from his post Feb. 12.

Some have questioned how the submariners could not have known the mountain was in front of them, but Navy spokeswoman Lt. Arwen Consaul yesterday explained the submarine had no way to "see" what was around it.

The San Francisco was traveling in stealth mode, using "passive sonar" rather than "active sonar," she said. When a submarine is using active sonar, it "pings" the ocean around it and is able to "view" the vicinity, she explained. But such technologies make noise and can alert other vessels to its presence, she said, so the vessel avoids using it when it's in stealth.

Some things, such as whales or ships, make noise, and the passive sonar system can pick up those noises so the vessel is aware of them. However, since a mountain makes no noise, there was no way to tell it was there, she said.

Without active sonar, the submarine is essentially blind and is completely dependent on charts to determine what is around it, Consaul said.

"It's basically like being on a bus with all the blinds down and driving down Marine Drive, with only your map to guide you," she said, referring to the island's main route. "If someone puts a bypass there and it's not on your map, you're in trouble."

Reconsideration

After the accident, Akin said, he told himself he never wanted to get back on a submerged submarine. Since then, he's reconsidered.

After all, he said, USS San Francisco's accident was the first of its kind for the Navy in decades, and one of the worst submarine accidents in history. Despite that, the hull remained intact. In many ways, it's a testament to the strength and impermeability of the submarine, he said.

Thurman, who's been in the Navy for four years, admitted that the experience was traumatic.

"You're under the surface with 130 of your closest friends, so yes, there's trauma in seeing them all injured. But we performed as required. There's no greater testimony to the dedication and determination of the crew than how we responded to the emergency," he said.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Please Sign Joseph Ashley's Guest Book

The guest book is still on line at this link. Two thousand have signed thus far, but there are many more "Brothers", and MM2(SS) Ashley's family still reads them all-- it helps to have the support of others.