3 December 2016
BREMERTON - The USS San Francisco, given a nose job and longer life by workers at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, is retiring.
On Jan. 8, 2005, the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, at nearly full speed, struck an underwater mountain. One sailor died from head injuries. Ninety-seven of 137 crew members were injured after slamming into bulkheads and equipment. The sub's bow was crushed, its forward ballast tanks and sonar dome severely damaged.
The San Francisco surfaced and traveled 350 miles north to Guam. Temporary repairs were made, enabling it to continue to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for extensive work. It arrived on Sept. 9, 2005.
The challenging, one-of-a-kind project was completed on Oct. 20, 2008. It involved cutting more than 1 million pounds of forward ballast tanks and sonar sphere off of the USS Honolulu and attaching them to the San Francisco. The restoration took 285,000 man days and left the 6,000-ton submarine meeting all of its original design specifications.
The feat is among the highlights of many shipyard careers, including those of Duane Haydock and Jackie Kirsch. The team succeeded because of skill and determination, said Haydock, lead production zone manager on the job.
"It was a very big deal to me and right near the top for highlights in my career that has spanned 34 years," Haydock said. "There was never any doubt in the core team players' minds that it could be done, and we wanted to prove it, but it was a battle. If it was easy, it would not stand out as remarkable."
"This availability will be the one that I will remember and brag about in retirement," said Kirsch, product engineering and planning manager for the repairs. "The continuous engineering support it took to move a million-pound section from the ex-SSN 718 (Honolulu) and ensure alignment was a significant accomplishment to be proud of."
Though the bow replacement was huge and unprecedented, "in reality it was just a complicated sequence of small tasks that were well within our capability," Haydock said. "That's why we knew we could do it."
The work attracted many high-level observers. Haydock was in the dock when the new bow was connected. He looked up and, "the end of the dock was completely lined with people several layers back," he said. "It was like being in a stadium."
Kirsch performed her normal duties of managing engineering and planning support, but this project was different because of its high visibility, uniqueness and intensity.
"When bringing everything to a close and certifying for unrestricted operations without a hitch, it was very satisfying," she said.
Team members broke new ground, but Haydock wouldn't necessarily call them trailblazers.
"We're only going down this trail one time," he said. "Nobody will be following. It was a one-of-a-kind."
Before the collision, the San Francisco had its nuclear fuel replaced and was expected to remain in service until 2017. The Honolulu was four years newer and had yet to reach its mid-life refueling.
The Navy determined that instead of refueling the Honolulu for an estimated $170 million, it would replace the San Francisco's bow with that of the Honolulu at a projected cost of $79 million. It wound up costing $134 million.
The bow replacement gave the San Francisco another seven years, including four more deployments.
The sea mountain didn't appear on the chart that was being used before the crash, but other available charts indicated there was probably one there, according to the Navy. That information should have been transferred to the charts in use, a breach of procedures. Cmdr. Kevin Mooney was relieved of his command and received a letter of reprimand.
Later this month, the 35-year-old San Francisco will move to Norfolk, where it will be converted into a moored training ship. It will be moved to the Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston, South Carolina, where future submariners will learn to operate nuclear reactors and engineering systems.