Jun 11, 2021

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A very wet day! - submitted by Russ Christie MT1 70 - 75

 It was in February 1972, we had just off-loaded our missiles in Charleston and wer just passed through the Panama Canal to transit going to Bremerton, WA for the Key's first overhaul and conversion from Polaris to Poseidon missiles.  We were snorkeling at periscope depth with the head valve pinned open because it has been failing shut causing problems with ventilating the ship.  Then a reactor scram drill took place and, as it was explained  to me, instead of recovering the scrammed set of rods, the operator scrammed the only operational set of rods thus completely shutting off all ships power.  We immediately lost propulsion and the bow dipped causing the snorkel mast to drop below the surface.  The battery had kicked in so the fans were now drawing water down the snorkel mast and sending it throughout the ship.  The first alarm came, "Flooding in the torpedo room!" followed seconds later by "Flooding in lower level Ops!", then immediately "Flooding in middle level Ops and upper level Ops!".  Water was coming out of all of the ventilation ducts turning the forward end of the boat into a big sprinkler system.  I was on duty at launcher and we had shut the dampers in the forward end on the missile compartment when we heard the first alarm which prevented water from getting aft but water was flooding into Ops through the fan room.  The ship began to drop.  As I remember, the command came to blow main ballast tanks as we passed 150 feet.  You could hear the air hitting the tanks but the ship did not rise.  We kept dropping, 200 feet, 250 feet, 300 feet, 400 feet and more -  then finally the command "Emergency Blow!".  What a sweet sound it was hearing that 4500 pound air pressure hitting those tanks.  The depth gauge slowed, then stopped, then began to rise at a shark up angle.  The numbers rolled by quicker and quicker until finally you could hear us breaking the surface.  It felt like the Key was jumping out of the water.  This immediately stopped the flooding as the snorkel mast was now above the surface.  However, a new problem arose.  The water in lower level Ops was in danger of getting into the battery compartment.  The crew dragged mattresses from berthing and pile them on top of the battery hatch stopping the water and removing the immediate danger.  We spent the rest of the trip to Bremerton cleaning up and trying to get the various salt-water dunked equipment working again.  Just about everything was up and running when we pulled into the shipyard in Bremerton where they gutted the ship for overhaul.


02/08/07 E-mail from Harry Baker TM2  71 - 73 Blue

I was looking at the web page the other night and was reading about our mishap off San Diego and I remember some other goodies about that transit I'll send along. Three or four years ago I got invited by my buddy to visit the George Marshal when it came to New London ( I think for decommissioning) and I was telling the OD about the experience. He said "we studied that at the academy"! The young LTJG sure made me feel old. I guess the Key will be remembered for a lot.   Harry


03/14/2007 E-mail from Bob Weeks QM Blue 

I was on the conn with the OOD (whose name I withhold to protect the guilty), when we almost sank the Key, and in my 60 years, it is the only time that I was sure that I was going to die - the 10's on the depth gauge were spinning so fast that I couldn't read them. The OOD totally lost it and the Chief of the Watch had his hands on the emergency blow
controls awaiting THE command. I was screaming at the OOD to Emergency Blow, but got no response - only a glazed stare. After what seemed like hours, Capt. Bump stormed into the Control Room and immediately gave the order. At that point, our decent slowed, and finally we headed for the surface. I don't recall how deep we went, but once we finally started up, we took a 30 degree up angle, and everything that wasn't tied down headed aft. Since the fan room had been flooded, the ventilation systems were inoperable, and for the rest of the trip to Bremerton conditions were hot and miserable.

10/29/09 E-mail from Larry Keller

My name is Larry Keller, I was a second class, RO on the Blue Crew just finishing my 5tth patrol, taking the boat around through the Panama to Bremerton for her Poseidon conversion.  This would have been in the spring of 1972. We were somewhere in the Pacific when I was sleeping on the top rack when the alarm when off by my head.  I heard some one yell flooding, as I jumped down I saw a bunch of guys grabbing bunk mattresses to soak up the salt water coming down the ladder heading for the battery compartment.  It was crazy and things were happening fast.  I heard and felt the emergency blow and wondered what the hell is going on.  There was nothing else to do there, so I started to go back to engineering and could not get through the missile compartment.  The door was on its latch and a whistling sound was going through the crack and not going to pop the latch or we would have been sucked in the missile compartment and been splattered against a missile tube.  We just stayed there and waited.  We found out that the induction valve was not working properly, so they wired it open at New London , and as we were snorkeling at periscope height, a large wave came over us and we sucked in water.  Some one walking by the fan room noticed water at the window, the BCP operator saw we were sinking and after a normal blow didnít stop us sinking, he hit the emergency blow at 400 feet.  And oh yeh, at the same time someone was playing games in engineering and scrammed the reactor.  Tried to do an emergency start up and someone screwed up and they fried the rod selector switch.  We had to break the rules to get the reactor started again, but by that time we were on the surface with just battery propulsion.  I bet the Captain had fun explaining that deal to his superior.  What a way to end my last patrol.  


08/15/10 from Jess Blankenship  MM1


My name is Jess Blankenship MM1 (SS) and I was aboard the Key during the transit as LELT when we almost sank in 1972. I had the AMR 2 LL watch about 1 am and was in the process of sampling the reactor. Capt. Bump was up and ran a reactor scram drill. We started the recovery and decreased our depth. The ET2 in the upper level had just qualified and was trying to transfer the rods back to the operating bus (with Capt. Bump watching) when he failed to properly sync and caused a full scram. This wasn't something we typically trained for, but I got the diesel up and running after we reached snorkel depth and we were completing the recovery when he again synced out of phase and scrammed again. This also caught the panel on fire, which was quickly put out. Suddenly the diesel shut down and I opened the kick drain and I got a full stream of water out, so I immediately shut it. By then extra crew were coming back and we were trying to restart the reactor again. We heard the ballast tanks blow as the ship began to sink, but you could tell it wasn't an emergency blow. The ship continued to go down and then they finally did the emergency blow, but the after tanks didn't blow. We're rising from the bow and sinking from the stern. My chief Moore and another MM1 and I were standing at the bottom of the ladder waiting for them to manually override in the UL AMR2, finally we started up the ladder to get it done, when they finally blew. It wasn't an instant change but we finally began to feel the ship stop sinking and start rising. I heard we were over a thousand feet. I'm sure we were over a 25 degree up angle and as described we finally popped to the surface. It took several hours to get the diesel going and heat the reactor back up and do a start up. I think we were dead in the water for 12 to 13 hours before we got underway. I remember the look in all of our eyes as we waited for the aft group to blow. You could see we each were thinking "this is it", but damned if we were giving up. J. T. Linville was a hard taskmaster, but he sure trained me well, Thanks JT

07/31/2019  Great to hear the sea stories - I would like to contribute to the "A Very Wet Day" story.

Submitted by Bill Wendland MM1(SS) 70-75

Proceeding to Bremerton in the Pacific, on watch as ERS in engineering spaces. Scram drill, diesel running, recovering from the scram. Drilled many, many times. All of a sudden diesel shutdown, coffee pot overflowed in AMR2, reactor day tank filled the Reactor Compartment Tunnel with hot steamy water. Not sure whether we had a real reactor water spill or what. Passed the word to maneuvering "reactor spill". Jumped down to AMR2 lower level, Jess Blankenship was dealing with a high vacuum trip on the emergency diesel and water coming out the mast drain line. Back up and into maneuvering, noticed that the depth repeater was rapidly increasing, so fast in fact that you could not make out the numbers. Then heard word passed on the 1MC "flooding-flooding-flooding". Securing the compartment water tight doors and ventilation dampers. Then 1MC "surface, surface, surface", heard the MBT blow, but depth counter still increasing, then "Emergency Blow". Slowly surfacing although not at the normal angle - hanging on. Finally surfaced, dead in the water for a while. Recovered the propulsion plant, took a bit longer as at this point we had a full scram, and due to flooding needed to reopen all the hull valves that were closed via the emergency closure in maneuvering and in the engine room and AMR2 to bring the main and auxiliary systems back on line. Also steam lines were by now only semi warm requiring additional time to warm. Once we had steam, started the SSTG's, main and auxiliary systems and all three high pressure air compressors to recharge the air banks. ELT's sampling water and air in the tunnel and cleaning up from that. Got the coffee pot back on line. Finally 2 slow, 2 slow and underway albeit slowly at first.

Following watch relief, went forward and noted the remnants of the extensive flooding in the fan room, crews berthing and elsewhere. I've forgotten who it was that barricaded themselves on top of the battery compartment hatch surrounded by quite a large number of mattresses. Told that the water got as high as the middle bunk. Everyone did what they were supposed to.

My recollection is that Key experienced a very similar experience about two years later on the same date an hour or two off. Not sure where we were at the time - scram drill, diesel running and lost depth control although not as deep this time. Diesel tripped on high vacuum again. Head valve was pinned open. It would have been during a gold crew deployment.


Any of you guys from that cruise that have more detail from where you were on the boat that day please send them in so we can get all the detail possible on the day we almost sank the Key - or at least gave her a good bath.