Emergency Surface!

francis scott key emergency surface-photo from 633

The photo of an emergency surface exercise of the USS Francis Scott Key was taken from the USS Casimir Pulaski at some point after I served on the Pulaski.

While I was on the Pulaski, in late 1974 or early 1975, we performed an emergency surface exercise. I was fortunate enough to be on one of the controls, the fairwater planes.

For some reason, we had more machinest mates than needed for the watchbill. When divisions on board ship had a surplus of junior enlisted sailors, often they would be assigned to the mess decks. However, because I was in the nuclear power program, I was a petty officer before I reported to the boat and petty officers are NOT generally assigned food services duty. Instead, I qualified and stood watch as helmsman, planesman, and, when we were on the surface, lookout.

When we did the emergency surface, I remember being told to keep the angle of the ship from exceeding a certain value. I don’t remember the number, but I do remember, as the angle started rising, pushing forward on the yoke as far as possible and the angle just kept getting steeper. We were moving forward at “ahead full,” if I remember right, and were somewhere between 400 to 700 feet deep when the forward ballast tanks were blown to establish the upward angle. Not too long after that, the rest of the ballast tanks were blown. I don’t remember watching the depth indication, but it would have been changing faster than I had ever seen it change. There was likely a shuddering of the hull as it moved through the water and started to rise, as well as the souds of the water being blown from the tanks with air. Those who were standing would appear to be leaning forward when, in reality, they would be standing straight up as the deck took a steeper and steeper angle. I was seated, looking forward, so really didn’t see any of the crew who were standing.

When the boat broached the surface, it felt a bit like an amusement ride where you’ve been going up and up and up and then all of a sudden levels and drops.  After emergency surfacing , the submarine came further out of the water than it would on a normal surface and, because of that,  actually went below the surface until its positive buoyancy brought it back up.

Quite a memorable experience.

The video below shows another submarine doing an emergency surface.

An emergency surface exercise is supposed to be a controlled training evolution.  As an exercise, it should never be done when there is the slightest possibility of other ships in the immediate area.

On February 9, 2001, the American submarine USS Greeneville (SSN-772) accidentally struck and sank a Japanese high-school fisheries training ship, Ehime-Maru, killing nine of the 35 Japanese aboard, including four students, 10 miles off the coast of O’ahu. The collision occurred while members of the public were on board the submarine observing an emergency surface drill.

A naval inquiry found that the accident was the result of poorly executed sonar sweeps, an ineffective periscope search by the submarine’s captain, Commander Scott Waddle, bad communication among the crew and distractions caused by the presence of the 16 civilian guests aboard the submarine.

— Wikipedia

Needless to say, this was a horrifying incident for anyone who has served on submarines.  It never should have happened.

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1 comment… add one
  • Bruce Mc Mullen Feb 15, 2014

    I seen movie shows of emergency surfacing. Now I had a real one. Thank you.

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