Dive Report: USS Arizona

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Posted by Patrick on June 30, 2005 at 17:17:20:

The recent project that I was privileged to participate in – the mapping and GPS survey of the USS ARIZONA – was a unique experience and I thought might be of some interest to the members of the board.

The object of the project was to re-map, measure (trilaterate) and survey using fixed DGPS “super data” points and a Trimble S6 laser Total Station, a 20 frame section of the ARIZONA so as to provide additional, highly accurate data points for inclusion in the finite element analysis model being constructed by the National Institute of Standards & Technology. The hope is that this model will be able to provide some insight into the structural stability of the warship with regard to the 500,000 gallons of NSFO (naval standard fuel oil) that would be released in a catastrophic hull collapse.

The team of eight divers – 5 National Park Service divers and 3 from Coastal Maritime Archaeology Resources (CMAR) – were tasked to gather this data while maintaining the lowest possible profile. All approaches and departures to the site were to be made underwater. Though much of the work had to carried out in extremely shallow areas directly adjacent to the Memorial, demeanor and decorum had to be constantly maintained; we were after all, working on a war memorial site and a war grave that still held the remains of over 900 sailors and Marines. Each day we worked, the Memorial received approximately 5,000 visitors. The thought occurred to us at the close of the project that those of us who participated have now become part of many thousands of visitor’s vacation pictures.

The water temp was a typical 81 degrees and the visibility - a milky green - ranged from zero to perhaps 12-feet max. and this literally fluctuated from minute to minute. There was heavy sedimentation on the wreck and any work obscured viz. Maximum depth I encountered during a visit to the rudder, at the silt/mud line was 35 FSW, however, we would often spend over two hours working in the water at depths too shallow for our computers to register – just 4-8 feet.

It’s difficult to describe the wreck of this icon of the Second World War. You’re looking at a 608 foot-long vessel in two to maybe ten foot glimpses. It might be better that way. It forces one to focus down and not be overwhelmed by mass of ship, and the incredible destruction that was wrought when her forward magazine exploded after taking nearly a direct hit from 1,760-pound armor piercing bomb on Dec., 7, 1941.

There was and is still so much, it’ll take a while to sort through it all in my mind, so I’ll just provide a few impressions.

Just forward of midships, starboard side, the heavy hull plating peeled back like tin-foil and wrapped so that the inside of the hull is now facing out. Portholes with their battle covers dogged in place facing out and slowly being obscured by orange and black sponge.

While working just aft of the stack, holding the “dummy” end of a tape during a trilat measurement, noticing the remains of fire hose with couplings and nozzles laying on the deck where they were dropped 63 years earlier as ineffective against the inferno of fuel that burned for three days after the attack. Then glancing further over seeing the remains of a shoe and wondering the circumstances of it’s being there.

In working the port side of the midships galley area seeing plates, bowls, dishes coffee cups and silverware, and after marveling at their survival, remembering that a good number of the crew were just sitting down to breakfast when the attack began.

Seeing a 6-inch I-beam, still in place yet twisted like a licorice-whip over 400 feet from where the explosion took place.

It doesn’t take much of this kind of experience to make you realize that you are touching the nexus of an event the changed the world, and millions of lives, forever…

On a light note, despite the leaking oil and turbidity of the water, there is a surprising amount of life on and around the ARIZONA. Clumps of hard coral are nearly everywhere as are sponges and hydroids. Squadrons of tangs were the most common fish I saw, and other of the crew reported various puffers, barracuda and even a couple of turtles. It was mentioned later that the West Loch of Pearl Harbor is thought to be a breeding area for Tiger Sharks.

Though the work was challenging and the facilities were restricted – our dive prep and gear area was under the stairs on the Memorial’s receiving dock with a height of 4 ½ feet – tough to get into an out of dive gear, not to mention the placement and removal of 20 to 36 tanks a day - it was one of the most emotional and satisfying dive tasks I’ve ever completed.

According to Matt Russell, the project manager, all the required data was collected. I know for me and my compatriots in CMAR it was an honor and a privilege to have participated in this project.

Stay wet

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