USS San Francisco Investigation Completed

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy announced May 9 the completion of the investigation into the Jan. 8 accident aboard the submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711) that claimed the life of one Sailor.

San Francisco struck an undersea mountain about 360 miles southeast of its Guam homeport because its leaders and watch teams failed to develop and execute a safe voyage plan, the command investigation into the incident concluded.

"The findings of fact show that San Francisco, while transiting at flank (maximum) speed and submerged to 525 feet, hit a seamount that did not appear on the chart being used for navigation," the 124-page report said of the incident in the vicinity of the Caroline Islands.

"Other charts in San Francisco’s possession did, however, clearly display a navigation hazard in the vicinity of the grounding," it said. "San Francisco’s navigation team failed to review those charts adequately and transfer pertinent data to the chart being used for navigation, as relevant directives and the ship’s own procedures required.

"If San Francisco’s leaders and watch teams had complied with requisite procedures and exercised prudent navigation practices, the grounding would most likely have been avoided. Even if not wholly avoided, however, the grounding would not have been as severe and loss of life may have been prevented."

Machinist's Mate 2nd Class Joseph Allen Ashley, 24, of Akron, Ohio, died aboard the submarine Jan. 9 from an "inevitably fatal" severe head injury sustained during the accident. "Earlier evacuation or arrival of medical officers would not have changed the outcome for [Petty Officer] Ashley" the investigation said in regard to the two additional medical personnel flown aboard by helicopter and two attempts to medically evacuate him by helicopter.

Another 97 of 137 crew members reported injuries ranging from minor bruising and muscle strains to two who suffered dislocated shoulders. Sixty-eight of them were evaluated and treated aboard, while the remaining 29 were treated at Naval Hospital Guam when San Francisco returned to port under its own power Jan. 10. Just three of them were admitted overnight for further evaluation and treatment.

As a result of the collision, U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert relieved Cmdr. Kevin Mooney of his command of San Francisco Feb. 12 following non-judicial punishment proceedings in Yokosuka, Japan. Mooney also received a letter of reprimand. But Greenert, in his endorsement of the investigation, also praised Mooney’s prior record and performance following the impact.

"Although the grounding incident compelled me to punish [him] and remove him from command, in my opinion it does not negate 19 years of exemplary service," the admiral wrote. "Prior to the grounding incident, USS San Francisco demonstrated a trend of continuing improvement and compiled an impressive record of achievement under [Mooney’s] leadership. Moreover, the crew’s post-grounding response under his direct leadership was commendable and enabled [the sub’s] recovery and safe return to port."

Greenert also criticized the executive officer and navigation team for their share of the responsibility, saying their "failure to adequately and critically review applicable publications and available charts led to submission of an ill-advised voyage plan and hindered the commanding officer’s ability to make fully informed safety-of-ship decisions."

Six crew members were punished March 22 by Capt. Bradley Gehrke, commander of Submarine Squadron 15 on Guam, to which San Francisco was assigned. None were identified due to privacy reasons, but they included enlisted, senior enlisted and officer. The punishments included reduction in rate and punitive letters of reprimand.

San Francisco remains in drydock in Apra Harbor, Guam, under repair.

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