NEW YORK – After 24 years at the same Hudson River pier, the mission to move the legendary aircraft carrier USS Intrepid for a $60 million restoration was scrubbed Monday when the floating military museum became stuck in the mud.
The mission was called off for the day at around 10:30 a.m., according to Dan Bender, a Coast Guard spokesman.
As six tugboats strained to move the behemoth, the Intrepid's giant propellers got stuck in the mud. It eventually began inching backward out of its berth — but moved only about 15 feet.
"We knew it was not going to come out like a cruise ship," said Matt Woods, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum's vice president for operations.
There was no immediate word on when another try would be made.
The carrier's move from Pier 86 involved meticulous preparation worthy of its first departure for Pacific war combat in 1943.
Monday's departure was timed to take advantage of yearly high tide so the tugs could pull the 27,000-ton ship, which no longer generates its own power, out of the slip where it has rested in up to 17 feet of mud. Removal of 600 tons of water from the Intrepid's ballast tanks gave the ship added buoyancy, and dredges removed 15,000 cubic yards of mud to create a channel from dockside to deeper water.
Once out in the Hudson's main channel, the tugs were to take the Intrepid on its stern-first, five-mile trek down river to a shipyard at Bayonne, N.J., past the former World Trade Center site, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, for the restoration and repairs. It was to return to New York City in 18 to 24 months.
Elected officials and dozens of former crew members had attended the sendoff ceremony.
Helicopters flew overhead; New York Police Department blue-and-white power boats, two Fire Department boats and a Coast Guard cutter were on hand to accompany the aircraft carrier.
After its refurbishment, the Intrepid, which serves as a living memorial to the arms services and a popular tourist attraction, also was to serve as a city and federal emergency operation center if the need arose. The FBI used the aircraft carrier as an operation center after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Just before the ceremony, officials expressed optimism about being able to move the aircraft carrier.
"The people doing this have moved a thousand ships bigger than the Intrepid," White said earlier. "A ship that survived five kamikaze attacks is going to make it five miles down river."
Hector Giannesca recalled one of those attacks Monday as he stood on the flight deck, steps from where he stood in 1944 when a suicide pilot crashed into the deck, killing 79 of his shipmates.
Two former mayors, Edward Koch and David Dinkins, cast off the final mooring lines at the order of 80-year-old retired Rear Adm. J. Lloyd "Doc" Abbot Jr., who served two years as Intrepid's skipper in 1960-62 and has been named honorary commander for the day.
"It was the best job I ever had," Abbot said, standing once again on the ship's deck. "Intrepid had a soul of her own. How can a hunk of iron have a soul, you may ask. But I loved her. She kept me safe and at times I kept her safe."
The Intrepid's move was to be marked with patriotic music, speeches and a Navy F18 Hornet fighter bomber flyover. A wedge of four Corps of Engineers boats was to precede the five tugboats shepherding the powerless carrier, as fireboats delivered traditional sprays of colored water.
A huge American flag was to be unfurled from the ship's starboard side as it paused opposite ground zero.
The carrier's refurbishment will include opening up more interior spaces to the public, upgrading its exhibits and a bow-to-stern paint job in naval haze-gray. Pier 86 will also be completely rebuilt in the Intrepid's absence.
The ship's collection of aircraft has been shrink-wrapped in plastic cocoons to protect it from the elements during the hiatus in New Jersey. The British Airways Concorde supersonic jetliner that has been part of the Intrepid museum exhibit since 2004 will be temporarily relocated outside a new recreational center at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.
The Intrepid, launched in 1943, is one of four Essex-class carriers still afloat six decades after spearheading the naval defeat of Japan in the Pacific. It served during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and as a recovery ship for NASA astronauts — losing 270 crewmen in battle.
Doomed to the scrap heap, it was purchased in 1981 by real estate developer Zachary Fisher, who realized his dream of turning the ship into the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum a year later. It has become one of New York's major tourist attractions, drawing some 700,000 visitors a year.