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Aircraft Carrier Is Sunk to Be Reef

The Navy sends the Oriskany to the sea bottom off Florida. War veterans watch tearfully.

May 18, 2006|From the Associated Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. — As hundreds of veterans looked on solemnly, the Navy blew holes in a retired aircraft carrier and sent the 888-foot Oriskany to the bottom of the sea Wednesday, creating the world's largest man-made reef.

The rusted hulk took 37 minutes to slip beneath the waves, about 4 1/2 hours faster than predicted, after more than 500 pounds of plastic explosives went off with bright flashes of light and clouds of brown and gray smoke.

Korean and Vietnam war veterans watched from 300 charter boats beyond a one-mile safety perimeter as the "Mighty O" went down in 212 feet of water, about 24 miles off Pensacola.

Lloyd Quiter of North Collins, N.Y., who served four tours on the ship in Vietnam, played the attention-all-hands signal on his boatswain's pipe, and wept.

"I'm a little stunned. It's a little hard to take," he said.

After the blasts, an acrid smell hung in the air near the ship. The carrier went down stern-first, the bow lifting up and creating a giant spray of water as it came down. The ocean churned a foamy white as the deck, bright orange with rust, slid under. Hundreds of surrounding boats blew their horns in tribute.

The Oriskany (pronounced oh-RISK-uh-nee) was sunk under a Navy program to dispose of old warships by turning them into diving attractions teeming with fish and other marine life.

Over the years, other ships have been turned into reefs, including the warship Spiegel Grove, a cargo vessel that was scuttled in 2002 off Key Largo. But that was a civilian project, paid for with county and private money.

Jack Witter of Fort Pierce, Fla., an aviation ordnance operator during the Korean War, was among the veterans watching the Oriskany go down.

"I guess there was a little tear in my eye because a good part of my life went down with her, but it was a fitting end for a good ship," Witter said.

The Oriskany, commissioned in 1950 and named after an American Revolutionary War battle, saw duty during the Korean War and was home to John McCain when the Navy pilot and future Arizona senator served in Vietnam. It was also among the ships used by President Kennedy in a show of force during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. It was decommissioned in 1976.

McCain was shot down over Vietnam in 1967 after taking off from the Oriskany and was held as a prisoner of war for more than five years.

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