USS Chopper SS-342 (1945-1969)
This Balao-class, diesel-electric submarine was launched on February 4, 1965, after her construction by the Electric Boat Company. The vessel was commissioned on May 25, 1945 with Lieutenant Commander S. Filipone in command.
After sailing from New London, Connecticut on July 4, 1945 for Pearl Harbor, waiting there from September 21 to October 24, she arrived at San Diego, her new home port. Sailing to the Philippines on January 2, 1946, she trained and offered her services until May 11, when she returned to local operations in San Diego. A simulated war patrol in China next occupied the Chopper from July 28 to November 9, 1947. She continued west coast operations until March 1949, arriving at her new home port of Key West on April 4. She continued training operations and exercises in the Florida and Caribbean waters until January 1952, pausing only for modernization in September 1950 that was finished in May 1951.
Making a tour of duty in the Mediterranean until May 20, she returned to her local operations before joining NATO operations in the Atlantic for a month in the fall. Her local operations then continued until May 25, 1959, when she sailed to join in special exercises in the Mediterranean before returning to Key West on August 9, 1959 and continuing operations in that area through 1960.
On February 11, 1969, the Chopper participated in an exercise off the coast of Cuba that would lead to her decommissioning. While participating in the exercising, the submarine lost power, descending nearly vertically in the ocean to an estimated bow depth of 1,011 feet. Although the crew was eventually able to bring the submarine to the surface and return to port under her own power, a later inspection showed that the rapid dive and subsequent ascent had caused significant structural damage, leading to the decision to decommission the vessel on September 15 of that year.
Reclassified and given the hull classification symbol AGSS-342, she later served as a United States Naval Reserve (USNR) dockside trainer in New Orleans, Louisiana until 1971, when the USNR Submarine Reserve program was discontinued. She was again reclassified with the symbol IXSS-342 and used as a salvage and rescue training vessel. On July 21, 1976, while tethered to act as a submarine target for the Spadefish, the Chopper began to take on water, broke the tethers supporting her and sank.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.