New York – The World War II aircraft carrier Intrepid has returned to the Manhattan pier where it has served for 24 years as a military and space museum.
Onlookers gathered along the Hudson River banks as the huge vessel, powered by tugs, was taken Thursday on its five-mile journey from Staten Island. Some 400 guests and former crew members were onboard.
The Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum occupied the Manhattan space until late 2006, when it was moved for extensive repairs and improvements costing nearly $120 million.
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"She looks good, brand new — but I admit to a little bias," said retired Adm. James "Doc" Abbot Jr., 82, who commanded the carrier in the early 1960s and was back on board as honorary skipper for the occasion.
Some 400 guests and former crew members also rode along, mingling on the flight deck in 60 degree weather. Jeff McAllister, commanding a tugboat fleet generating about 18,000 horsepower, said the stiff westerly wind was favorable for the task, as it helped the estimated 38,900-ton carrier to be guided into its newly rebuilt pier in the Hudson River.
The Intrepid was to arrive home on Thursday afternoon, following brief stops to salute the Statue of Liberty and unfurl a large American flag near ground zero, honoring victims of the terrorist attacks.
McAllister said he did not anticipate the type of problems that plagued the ship when it was first moved from the Manhattan pier and its propellers got stuck in the mud. The Army Corps of Engineers has since dredged the pierside channel to 35 feet, giving the Intrepid 11 feet of bottom clearance at high tide. It also was widened to 110 feet to accommodate the hull, which is 103 feet wide at the water line.
Launched in 1943 as one of the Navy's then-new Essex-class attack carriers, USS Intrepid figured in six major Pacific War campaigns including Leyte Gulf, history's greatest naval battle, surviving five Japanese kamikaze suicide planes.
It later saw service in the Korean and Vietnam wars and was twice a recovery ship for NASA astronauts before it was decommissioned and mothballed in a Philadelphia shipyard — slated for demolition until rescued by New York real estate developer and philanthropist Zachary Fisher.
Since 1982 it has become one of New York's most popular tourist sites, drawing some 750,000 visitors yearly over the past decade.
The 22-month renovation at a New Jersey drydock included repair and refurbishment of the ship's 65-year-old hull, followed by interior work at Staten Island's Stapleton naval dock — with the opening of formerly sealed spaces and expanded interactive museum exhibits, and the addition of five new aircraft to its flight deck collection.