Deadly Submarine Crash Aftermath

In this photo taken July 29, 2010 Lucy, left, and Will Tuttle pose in a corn field at the family farm in Dover, N.H. AP Photo

An undersea disaster was narrowly averted this year, hundreds of feet below sea. And before an investigation is complete, the Pentagon is already placing blame.

On Jan. 8, a U.S. Navy attack submarine was cruising at top speed when it rammed into an undersea mountain. Dozens were injured on board, but the submarine managed to limp back to port.

One sailor was killed and 60 more injured when the nuclear-powered sub smashed head on into the mountain last month when making a high-speed run at more than 35 miles per hour. The San Francisco was at a depth of more than 500 feet and — judging from the damage it suffered — lucky to have made it to the surface.

CBS News National Security Correspondent that although the accident investigation is not yet complete, the Navy has now decided to charge commander Kevin Mooney, the captain of the San Francisco, with failing to heed warnings he was operating in dangerous waters.

The Navy does not intend to court martial Mooney, but he has been relieved of his command and is likely to receive a career-ended letter of reprimand.

One soldier was killed and 23 others were injured in the crash, which occurred 350 miles south of Guam. The submarine reached its homeport of Apra Harbor Jan. 10 under its own power, a Navy spokesman said.

Navy medical personnel from Guam were brought aboard the submarine to treat the injuries, which included broken bones, lacerations, bruises and a back injury, the Navy said.

The sailor killed was identified as Machinist Mate 2nd Class Joseph Allen Ashley, 24, of Akron, Ohio. He died Jan. 9 of his injuries, said Jon Yoshishige, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Honolulu.

Just a few months ago, Ashley re-enlisted for five more years, his mother said. Friends and neighbors placed small American flags on the lawn of his family's home.

Normally, a sub relies on its sonar to detect underwater obstacles, sending out pulses of sound and listening for an echo. But the sonar is useless at high speeds because all other sounds are drowned out by the noise the sub makes CBS' Martin reports.

The undersea terrain of the open Pacific is known to be poorly mapped, and the mountain the San Francisco hit was no shown on the chart the sub was using to navigate. But other charts available to the captain warned that satellites had detected a discolored area of water, which could indicate an obstacle beneath the surface.

In addition, before the San Francisco began its high speed run, the crew took depth soundings, which revealed the water was shallower than shown on the chart — another warning sign the captain apparently failed to heed. It was a failure than nearly sent the sub, and all 137 aboard, to the bottom.
  • Brian Dakss

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