U.S. Navy Sinks Old Warship for Reef off Florida
MIAMI The U.S. Navy blasted holes in the retired U.S. aircraft carrier Oriskany off Florida's coast Wednesday and sent the warship to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico as the world's largest intentionally created artificial reef.
The 888-foot, 32,000-ton combat veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars took about 35 minutes to settle below the surface after crews set off 22 small explosive charges in her hull, Navy spokeswoman Pat Dolan said.
The rusting ship, decommissioned in 1976, was expected to settle upright in 212 feet of water, which would put her highest point about 60 feet under the surface for the recreational divers who will explore the vessel in the future.
"There was a puff of smoke that came out of the carrier when they set off the charges," she said. "The divers will go down tomorrow to check the orientation of the ship."
The storied Oriskany, named after a Revolutionary War battle, was built at the New York naval shipyard in 1945 and served in the Korean War and in Vietnam, where some of its pilots, including Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, became prisoners of war.
Reminiscing to CNN about his time on board, McCain said he remembered best "taking off for the last time and then being shot down." While he said he wished the ship had been turned into a museum, as a diver himself, McCain was glad it was providing recreational possibilities.
"As long as people like me are alive the memory of the Oriskany will be alive," McCain said. "The history books will be written about it as a very brave and valiant ship."
Dozens of boats ferried U.S. war veterans out to the site, 24 miles off Pensacola, Florida, to witness the sinking.
The Navy spent about $20 million to strip the ship of toxic materials, tow it to the site and send it to the bottom. A Florida State University study estimated the artificial reef would bring $92 million a year in benefits to the local economy.
Artificial reefs are created by the sinking of ships, old concrete pipes and other debris that becomes a lively habitat for fish, corals and other sea creatures. They are popular with scuba divers and can become major tourist attractions for nearby communities.
The Oriskany was used as a set in the 1955 movie "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" with William Holden and Mickey Rooney.