USS Thresher was the lead ship of her class of nuclear-powered attack submarines of the United States Navy. She was commissioned on August 3, 1961 with Commander Dean L. Axene in command.
Thresher’s early service included conducting lengthy sea trials in the western Atlantic and Caribbean Seas in order to provide a thorough evaluation of her new and complex technological designs and weaponry. Following other trials and the firing of her test torpedoes, Thresher participated in NUSUBEX 2-62 (an exercise designed to improve tactical capabilities of nuclear submarines), as well as anti-submarine warfare training with Task Group ALPHA.
Approximately 200 miles from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Thresher began conducting what were supposed to be deep-water diving tests on April 10, 1963. She was accompanied by the submarine rescue ship, Skylark, who was the last vessel to receive communication from her. It took several days for the Navy to publicly announce that all 129 officers, crewmen, military and civilian technicians aboard were presumed dead.
Her remains were eventually discovered about 8,400 feet below the surface broken apart into six major sections. A Court of Inquiry concluded that Thresher had probably suffered the failure of a joint in a salt water piping system, eventually imploding. Her imploding was later confirmed during a then-classified search using the same deep-diving robotic submersible that would eventually locate the Titanic.
USS Thresher’s loss at sea during these deep-diving tests was the driving force behind the Navy’s implementation of the rigorous submarine safety program, SUBSAFE. There are various memorials across the country dedicated to Thresher’s loss, as well as songs written in her honor.
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.