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Navy Waits For Gas To Clear Before Entering Damaged Sub

April 26, 1988

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ The blast that crippled the USS Bonefish may have been caused by a battery explosion, and three missing members of the submarine’s crew may have died trying to save the lives of their comrades, the Navy’s top officer said today.

The Bonefish remained tethered to a rescue ship as officials waited for toxic gases to clear before starting salvage efforts after the Sunday explosions and fire that injured 22 crewman.

Atlantic Fleet headquarters confirmed today that the first explosion occurred while the sub was at periscope depth. However, the spokesman refused to comment on speculation that the ship was recharging batteries at the time.

In Washington, Adm. Carlisle A.H. Troief of naval operations and a submariner himself.

″So it may well be that they simply ensured that everyone got clear and they themselves didn’t make it.″

Relatives of the missing sailors, meanwhile, maintained vigils.

″We still have a little ray of hope,″ said Joyce Lindgren, mother of Petty Officer 3rd Class Marshall T. Lindgren of Pisgah Forest, N.C. ″When he enrolled in the Navy I gave him to the Lord and I have to have trust in him now.″

The 30-year-old submarine, one of the Navy’s last diesel-electric subs, was participating in training exercises Sunday in the Atlantic about 160 miles off the coast of Florida when it was rocked by a series of explosions.

At least one blast occurred in the battery compartment and fire broke out in the forward battery compartment, said Lt. Cmdr. Aaron Long, spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet headquarters in Norfolk.

The crew brought the sub to the surface and its captain, Cmdr. Mike Wilson, ordered it abandoned because of the dense smoke and toxic fumes.

Of the 92 officer and crew board, 89 were taken aboard the frigate USS Carr and aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, which were involved in the exercises. The ships were unable to find the three crewmen, and officials were uncertain whether they were aboard the vessel or in the water.

The Bonefish was afloat today alongside the submarine rescue ship USS Petrel. Salvage workers were to board the sub once experts decided it was safe, but Navy officials were unsure when that would be, Long said.

Long refused to say what types of toxic gases might be present or what caused the explosions.

The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk reported today that the first explosion occurred at periscope depth, leading to speculation that the ship was recharging its batteries via a generator drawing air through a snorkel raised with the periscope.

Fleet spokesman Lt. Fred Henney confirmed this morning that the first explosion did occur at periscope depth, less than about 70 feet below the surface, but would not comment further.

Trost said ″battery explosion is the best information that we have″ as to the cause.

The salvage ship USS Hoist from the Little Creek Amphibious Base in Norfolk was expected to join the Petrel at the scene today.

On Monday, injured sailors were taken by helicopter from the Kennedy to the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. Twenty were held for observation, and two were in serious but stable condition in intensive care suffering from smoke inhalation.

″The majority of them are expected to be released today,″ said Lt. Cmdr. John Crowell, hospital administrator.

The only two that will definitely have to stay at least 48 hours are Lt. Edmund Collins, 34, of Park Forest, Ill., and Petty Officer 1st Class Antone Silvia, of Fort Lauderdale, said Crowell.

The injured crewmen will receive X-rays and pulmonary function tests to see if they have recovered from the effects of smoke inhalation, he said.

Navy spokesman Nick Young said none of the sailors was expected to talk with the media about their experience after being released from the hospital.

The rest of the crew was taken Monday to the Mayport Naval Station in Florida, then flown back to Charleston, S.C., where the submarine is based.

Lee Causey and his wife, Alice, of Jacksonville went to Mayport to meet their 30-year son, Petty Officer 1st Class Avery L. Causey.

″He didn’t say much. He was just glad to be back,″ Causey said. ″It’s good to see him. I was on a submarine for 21 years, so I know what he’s going through.″

The sailors, who refused to answer reporters’ questions, looked grim as they walked across the windy tarmac at the Charleston Air Force Base to meet relatives. One had a bandage on his head.

About 30 people, many holding balloons, greeted the plane. One woman held up a single yellow rose. Another held a balloon and wore a jacket reading ″Diesel Boats Forever″ beneath a cartoon of a submarine.

The 219-foot Bonefish, commissioned in 1958, is powered on the surface by diesel engines, but when submerged it uses electric motors powered by two battery compartments. The batteries are recharged by a generator when the ship is surfaced.

Each battery is equipped with an exhaust system to remove battery gases and hydrogen created during recharging.

The Virginian-Pilot quoted retired Adm. Harry D. Train II, who commanded the Bonefish’s sister ship the Barbel in the early 1960s, as saying that hydrogen builds up during recharging and can be hazardous if not vented.

The Bonefish is among the last of the Navy’s diesel-electric submarines, which are used primarily to mimic Soviet submarines in training exercises. The Soviets still operate about 100 such subs.

Besides Lindgren, the missing were identified as Lt. Ray Everts of Naoma, W.Va., and Petty Officer 1st Class Robert W. Bordelon Jr. of Willis, Texas.

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