Who's To Blame For Sub Accident?

<B>David Martin</B> Retraces Events That Led To USS San Francisco Crash

As the hours passed, the crew struggled to put the submarine back in some kind of working order, while at the same time caring for the injured, especially Ashley, who was given an emergency tracheotomy to keep him breathing.

"Everyone kind of switched off with Ashley, and they kind of stayed with him 24/7, round the clock, just holding his hand, taking care of him," says Barnes.

When word came that a rescue helicopter was finally en route, Ashley, who was strapped onto a stretcher in the bowels of the submarine, had to be moved through a labyrinth of tight passageways and up a narrow ladder to an exit hatch 25 feet above the main deck.

"We were cutting off railings and just doing anything we possibly could to ease the passage of that stretcher from where he was down in the crew's mess up to the area right below the bridge hatch," says Mooney.

"The water was washing over the top of the submarine," says Mooney. "We were unable to get him [Ashley] in his stretcher through the bridge hatch … couldn't squeeze it through."

Ashley clung to life for more than 24 hours, but the failed attempt to airlift him off the sub had literally been his last gasp.

"When they brought him back down from that was when they lost him," says Hager. "Pretty sad. [He was] one of the best on board."

The crew had no choice but to press on, and the sub, once capable of doing 40 miles an hour under water, limped home on the surface at only 10 miles an hour. Mooney says it took "52 hours from when we grounded to when we moored in Guam."

Now the San Francisco sits in dry dock on the island of Guam. You can't see the worst of the damage anymore, because a huge steel shield has been placed over the bow to make it seaworthy enough to sail to the States for permanent repairs. It will probably cost $100 million and take two years to put the San Francisco back in service.

So, how could this accident have happened?

For all their sophistication, nuclear-powered submarines run virtually blind to what's in front of them, relying mostly on their charts to navigate safely. They could use sonar to detect an obstacle, but its distinctive ping would give the sub's location away and violate the submariner's rule: run silent, run deep.

The Navy's investigation blamed Mooney for using "poor judgment" in his navigation of the San Francisco. It went on to say he "failed to appreciate potential hazards," went too fast, and most importantly, "failed to review…" his "…charts adequately." He was relieved of his command and given a career-ending letter of reprimand

"The real punishment for me is that I have to carry the consequences of this grounding with me the rest of my life, particularly the death of Petty Officer Ashley," says Mooney.

There's now a video tribute to Ashley at the Navy Memorial in Washington D.C.

You might think his parents, Dan and Vicki, would blame Mooney for their son's death, but they have forgiven him his mistakes, and believe some of the responsibility for what happened goes much higher in the Navy.

The Navy investigation didn't exactly admit to making a mistake, but it did find that an omission on one of its charts "directly contributed to the grounding."

The chart the San Francisco was using when it ran into the mountain is one in a series of bottom contour charts that the Navy considers the most complete and accurate for underwater navigation. It's not available to the public, but Martin said he could see the course Mooney followed and the exact spot where the collision occurred, and there's no sign of anything on the chart resembling an undersea mountain.

"The Navy gave you a bum chart," says Martin. "The Navy gave you a bum chart."

"Right," says Mooney. "It's regrettable."

There were other charts on board that clearly show a navigation hazard near where the San Francisco grounded. And the Navy says Mooney and his team were required to look at all the charts, not to rely on the accuracy of just the one.

"My biggest mistake or the area where I fell short the most, I think, it was I did not have a healthy skepticism on the accuracy of the charts," says Mooney. "Had I appreciated that the charts really are not that accurate, then I would have navigated my ship more prudently."

It turns out Mooney wasn't the only one who trusted the faulty chart. So did the submarine headquarters, which laid out the route the sub was to follow from Guam to Australia, a route which pointed it straight at the mountain, a route that another report said, "did not follow an optimal track."

"Did you follow the track that you were given?" asks Martin. "And that's the track that ran you smack into that undersea mountain?"

"Yes," says Mooney.

"And that's your fault?" asks Martin.

"Yes," says Mooney. Why? "The safe navigation of a submarine is the responsibility of the commanding officer," says Mooney.

It's what the Navy calls "the essence of command" – the buck stops with the captain of the ship.

"The standard that the submarine force holds me and every other person to are high because they have to be," says Mooney. "We can't afford to have another San Francisco."