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Sunken Submarine Becomes Training Ground for Navy and Army Divers

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Photo essay: Sunken Submarines
Video: Sunken Opportunity

It’s not often that you get to see such an awesome operation up close and personal — and this one was an amazing experience! Our FOX News crew recently spent a day out in Providence, R.I. to watch Army and Navy divers do their best to wiggle a massive 3,000-ton sunken Russian submarine out of the mud. The operation is being done in two phases: the first, to stabilize the sub, so it won’t slip into the channel this winter and float away; the second will be to raise it up out of the murky river next spring.

The Russian submarine has been a floating museum for the last five years and was pummeled by a powerful Nor’easter in April, causing it to sink to the bottom of the river. It didn’t go down very far (you can still see the periscopes sticking up out of the water) but when it sank, it also rolled … and now it’s stuck in the mud. You may be asking, how did all this happen? Isn’t a submarine supposed to be able to float and bob up and down in the water in the first place?

First, a little background on how this gigantic sub became a floating museum. When the Soviet Union collapsed, a lot of the naval vessels were left behind in satellite countries and there was no funding to support the ships or to pay the sailors. The K-77, popularly known as Juliett 484, was bought by a prominent businessman from Finland, who showed up with suitcases full of cash and bought four submarines from the senior Russian naval officer. (Those must have been BIG suitcases!)

Click here to view photos from the scene

The new submarine owner took the K-77 and turned it into an attraction in Helsinki, Finland. In 1998, the sub was leased to a Canadian promoter who towed it to Tampa Bay, and, for a number of reasons, the operation failed. The owners arranged to put the sub on eBay ... and, despite its publicity, it never sold. That’s when Hollywood came calling, and chartered to make the Harrison Ford Movie “K-19: The Widowmaker.” In 2000, the sub was towed to Halifax, Nova Scotia to film the movie. When they wrapped up, the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation picked it up and had it moved to Providence on Easter Sunday 2002. In August of 2002, it was cleaned up and opened to visitors as a museum. For more on the submarine’s amazing history, click here.

All the machinery that keeps a submarine moving and able to float was removed from the Juliett 484 when it was turned into a museum, which is why the crew wasn’t able to turn on a bunch of switches and get it up and back out of the water. All of the items on display inside the sub are most likely ruined, but may be salvageable. Only time will tell. In the meantime, all of this has turned into a golden training opportunity for the Army and Navy. Teams of divers have been sent as part of a Department of Defense training project to help raise the submarine. When submarines sink, it’s usually not right off a dock, where it can be stabilized and easily accessed.

We had a chance to talk to Navy Chief Warrant Officer Peter Sharpe while we were on the scene. He told us that this is just the type of experience that can help their divers get a better real first-hand job that you can’t get from diving and training in a tank or a pool. Sharpe went on to explain that their teams have also buried four 7,200 pound anchors on the shore, and ran wire down to the sunken sub through a hydraulic power unit, so that it will generate enough force to stabilize the boat. This training also helps them for future disasters and is the exact kind of thing that would be useful for events like the recent Minneapolis bridge collapse.

It was so impressive watching the divers go in and out of the water with all of their gear. Of course, I asked if we could suit up and go in along with the divers … but there are a lot of legal issues to get through before we can do that. Hopefully, I can get certified by next spring and be on hand when the divers return to try to get the submarine lifted out of the mud! After the dive was over, I had a chance to talk to Michael von Keyserling with the Army once he came out of the water. He described what it was like to be swimming around the sub and said that he was able to get inside it near the hatch opening. He then went down the first level, then followed a pathway all the way to the back and swam past where the sail is on the sub, then where the periscope starts. (OK, now that I’m writing this, maybe it would be better to watch them lift the sub from the shore … this sounds creepy!)

My favorite description of the effort to get the submarine out of the mud was when Chief Warrant Officer Sharpe compared it to a shoe. That’s where the term “mud suction” comes in. He said, “If you’ve ever been in a little bit of mud, and got your shoe stuck in it, now picture that shoe as being 286 feet long, and about how much force it would take to break free of that.” That’s one big shoe!

After our day of following around the divers, the crew and everyone at the USS Saratoga Foundation decided it was time to pack up and drive back to New York … but not before we took a group picture of everyone who was working that day! Check out the photo essay to see our cameraman Rob Ginnane and FOX producer Shira Weitz, who put together a lot of work into this shoot. Also, HUGE props to Frank Lennon, president of the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation. He took all the pictures you see on the blog and isn’t in our group shot because he’s behind the camera! He not only acted as our still photographer, but e-mailed me the pictures right away so we could share them with you. Hopefully, the submarine will be saved in the spring and will go back to the museum it once was. We’ll let you know what happens. Stay tuned!


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Laura Ingle has been a correspondent with FNC since 2005, and most recently reported for the Gerardo At Large syndicated news magazine program. She currently is based in New York.

Laura Ingle currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) and also frequently anchors FOXNews.com/LIVE. She joined FNC as a Dallas-based correspondent in 2005.