Sunday, May 8, 2005

Sub had charts to avoid
crash, Navy concludes

A U.S. attack submarine struck an undersea mountain in the western Pacific earlier this year because the vessel's officers and others failed to develop and execute a safe voyage plan, according to a Navy investigation released yesterday.

The USS San Francisco, with a crew of 137, was on its way to Australia on Jan. 8 when the grounding occurred about 360 miles southeast of Guam. Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Ashley, 24, of Akron, Ohio, suffered severe head injuries and died the next day. Ninety-seven other crewmen were injured, ranging from minor bruising to dislocated shoulders.

"If San Francisco's leaders and watch teams had complied with requisite procedures and exercised prudent navigation practices, the grounding would most likely have been avoided," the Navy's 124-page report said.

Submerged 525 feet, the sub hit a seamount that did not appear on the chart being used for navigation.

"Other charts in San Francisco's possession did, however, clearly display a navigation hazard in the vicinity of the grounding," the report said.

Ashley's father, Dan, received the report Friday and said he was not surprised with the findings.

The skipper of the submarine, Cmdr. Kevin Mooney, was earlier relieved of his command and reprimanded. Six crew members were also disciplined. The punishment included reduction in rank and punitive letters of reprimand.

Mooney recently met with the Ashley's father and together they visited the sailor's grave in Reedy, W.V.

"He took full responsibility, and with tears in his eyes he asked me to forgive him," Dan Ashley said in a telephone interview from Akron. "And I know Joey and him were very close."

Dan Ashley said he forgave Mooney and the other sailors involved who have also apologized.

"These were young men who in my eyes stood very tall," he said. "To be bold enough to apologize, that has meant a lot to my wife and I."

The vessel sustained severe damage, but the vessel's nuclear reactor was unaffected.

Capt. Matt Brown, spokesman for the Honolulu-based Pacific Fleet, said a preliminary estimate of the repair costs was $88 million.

Brown called the incident "a tragic accident" and said the investigation was conducted to make sure it doesn't happen again.

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