May 17, 2006

Navy sinks old warship for reef off Florida

MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy blasted holes in the
retired U.S. aircraft carrier Oriskany off Florida's coast on
Wednesday and sent the warship to the bottom of the Gulf of
Mexico as the world's largest intentionally created artificial

The 888-foot (271-meter), 32,000-ton (29,030-tonne) combat
veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars took about 35 minutes to
settle below the surface after crews set off 22 small explosive
charges in her hull, Navy spokeswoman Pat Dolan said.

The rusting ship, decommissioned in 1976, was expected to
settle upright in 212 feet of water, which would put her
highest point about 60 feet under the surface for the
recreational divers who will explore the vessel in the future.

"There was a puff of smoke that came out of the carrier
when they set off the charges," she said. "The divers will go
down tomorrow to check the orientation of the ship."

The storied Oriskany, named after a Revolutionary War
battle, was built at the New York naval shipyard in 1945 and
served in the Korean War and in Vietnam, where some of its
pilots, including Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona,
became prisoners of war.

Reminiscing to CNN about his time on board, McCain said he
remembered best "taking off for the last time and then being
shot down." While he said he wished the ship had been turned
into a museum, as a diver himself, McCain was glad it was
providing recreational possibilities.

"As long as people like me are alive the memory of the
Oriskany will be alive," McCain said. "The history books will
be written about it as a very brave and valiant ship."

Dozens of boats ferried U.S. war veterans out to the site,
24 miles off Pensacola, Florida, to witness the sinking.

The Navy spent about $20 million to strip the ship of toxic
materials, tow it to the site and send it to the bottom. A
Florida State University study estimated the artificial reef
would bring $92 million a year in benefits to the local

Artificial reefs are created by the sinking of ships, old
concrete pipes and other debris that becomes a lively habitat
for fish, corals and other sea creatures. They are popular with
scuba divers and can become major tourist attractions for
nearby communities.

The Oriskany was used as a set in the 1955 movie "The
Bridges at Toko-Ri" with William Holden and Mickey Rooney.