Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Notes on the Nebraska Fatality

UPDATE: M.E. normally needs not correct postings for subsequent news. Why? Because experience and knowledge usually equip us to get things right the first time. What then is the purpose of this update, you ask?

We originally stated (see below) expect a head to roll or a career to be marred silently, and we stick by our initial assessment. If a comment left at The Stupid Shall Be Punished by one cheezstake proves accurate, a safety best practice would certainly appear not to have been followed in this USS Nebraska tragedy. Cheezstake alleged (9/23/2008 3:22 PM):

If I remember correctly, on the 727G, if the emphasis for field day was shaft alley, we had a PO1 on the phones back there to alert all of ram movements. The field day norm was to keep course and depth steady for the field day duration with only slight changes as required.


If Cheeztake's above recollection is accurate, the tragedy was not only preventable, its circumstances had been anticipated by earlier submarine commands. That would make it is a fairly damning omission during peacetime conditions. Still, circumstances need not be so clearcut. Alternative safety precautions may have been in place. Some of the crew would know by now whether this were true. Non-crew may never ever learn such particulars.


Remember, the officers and crew are all good men, and like the rest of us subject to a 2% human error problem. We are not in a legitimate position of judgement, but we are certainly in a position of well-placed trust in our submarine force and its brave men. M.E. hopes facts and circumstances vindicate USS Nebraska's command structure. Our prayers go out to our brother, all his shipmates, and his family!


Was a [first, there was] 'no damage' statement necessary because, as a Trident sub, USS Nebraska (SSBN-739) is a component of our stategic arsenal? Does this imply the sub's return to port did not abort a critical mission? The answers are apparently yes, and yes.

'There was no damage to the submarine,' Lt. Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokes-man for Submarine Force Pacific, said Monday evening. 'None of the other crew members were injured. The crew was brought into port to address the needs of the crew because of this tragedy' and to help in the investigations into the incident, Benham said. - The Navy Times

The tragic news was already out - an unidentified submariner's death resulted from an underway accident. SSBNs are the relatively spacious U.S. boats. Moreover, slackening of rules and regulations by any member of a boomer crew is historically rare under ordinary circumstances. No one has to explain why.

This tragedy will be very difficult for the Navy (yes, it obviously rises beyond the Submarine Force's control) to explain unless there was a malfunction of some kind and contributory negligence. Otherwise, expect a head to roll or a career to be marred silently, I suspect.

Readers need only contrast the handling of this submarine tragedy with the December 2006, loss of lives from the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul (SSN-708). In that episode, overboard accidents resulted in two deaths and the failure of two additional sailors to journey the Atlantic with the sub which unlike, USS Nebraska, continued on its voyage:

Four crew were washed overboard by heavy waves on December 29, 2006 in Plymouth Sound, England as the surfaced sub departed HMNB Devonport following a port call. This resulted in the deaths of Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas Higgins (Chief of the Boat) and Sonar Technician (Submarines) 2nd Class Michael Holtz. After the preliminary investigation, the Commanding Officer received a punitive letter of reprimand and was relieved of his command.

Our hearts certainly go out to the family and friends of a fine, young USS Nebraska sailor who, while already making a truly remarkable sacrifice for his country, wound up paying a terrible price.

USS Nebraska (SSBN-739) Motto: Defensor Pacis (Defender of Peace)


Related Reading
Big Red:
The Three-Month Voyage of a Trident Nuclear Submarine by Douglas C. Waller. April, 2002



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