- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

The USS Greeneville's sonar detected noise from a vessel, but the crew concluded it was a small boat at a safe distance before the submarine surfaced and rammed the Japanese trawler Ehime Maru, The Washington Times has learned.
A U.S. Navy source yesterday provided The Times with an exclusive chronology of what happened aboard the cramped nuclear-powered submarine from the time it left Pearl Harbor to the horrifying moment it crashed into the Ehime Maru.
The sonar's "signal-to-noise ratio" suggested the profile of a coastal fishing boat too small to be operating nine miles off the Hawaiian coast, said the source close to the Navy's ongoing investigation.
The ratio is a measure of how much signal is discernible against a background of other ocean noises.
The source said the Greeneville's crew concluded that the boat must have been a safe distance from the point where the Greeneville executed an emergency surfacing drill, or "blow," and sunk the Ehime Maru. Some crew members now realize the noise the sonar picked up that tragic day was from the trawler.
In another development, the Greeneville's fire control technician, who tracks surface targets based on sonar, plotted the noise signature at 4,000 yards, or two nautical miles, from the Greeneville but did not report his finding to the ship's commander. There was a standing commander's order to report any surface "target" within 10,000 yards, the Navy source said.
The source also said the Greeneville's commander, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, followed all prescribed procedures. How well he carried them out will be examined by a special Navy Court of Inquiry. The proceeding was scheduled to begin tomorrow, but it likely will be delayed at the request of attorneys.
The Times has learned that at one point, as the sonar system picked up faint noise, Cmdr. Waddle asked for a reading from an antenna attached to the periscope that detects radar. No radar signature was reported, a fact consistent with a small boat rather than a fishing trawler equipped with radar.
Cmdr. Waddle performed a periscope search to try to locate the source of the sonar contact, and he ordered the sub raised 2 feet, to a depth of 58 feet, to get a better view above 4- to 6-foot waves, said the source, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity. At one point, Cmdr. Waddle ordered flat TV screens turned off in the control room and increased the periscope's magnification. Turning off the TV view of the periscope provides a small increase in light in the scope's viewfinder.
Since the accident happened during daylight, sub experts doubt this would have significantly helped the commander see the Japanese fishing boat.
The Navy source said the crew's theory is that the 180-foot Ehime Maru was bow-on to the sub and thus the white ship was camouflaged by the haze and white-capped waves present that day.
Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander, on Saturday ordered a Court of Inquiry to investigate the Feb. 9 accident that sunk the Ehime Maru and left nine teen-age passengers and crew members presumed dead. Adm. Fargo named as subjects of the probe Cmdr. Waddle; Lt. Cmdr. Gerald K. Pfeifer, the Greeneville's executive officer; and Lt. j.g. Michael J. Coen, the officer of the deck.
The court's findings could lead to criminal charges and courts-martial. Possible charges include involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer, according to military legal experts.
The Navy official gave The Times this version of events on Feb. 9:
The Greeneville, a 360-foot Los Angeles-class attack boat, was often picked by the Pacific submarine command to host civilian VIPs. Cmdr. Waddle was considered one of the sub fleet's top commanders. The ship itself was always clean and well-equipped; the 130-member crew was polite and professional.
The boat was selected to host a pending change-of-command ceremony for Rear Adm. Albert Konetzni Jr., the Pacific sub commander who is nominated to receive a third star and become Atlantic fleet deputy commander.
The crew wanted to put on a good show for the 16 civilians. Most were tied in some way to the USS Missouri Memorial Association, a group dedicated to raising $25 million to refurbish the mothballed battleship and open it to the public in Honolulu.
At about nine miles off the Hawaiian coast, the Greeneville's sonar picked up sounds now believed to be the Ehime Maru. The sub then demonstrated for the VIPs a quick underwater maneuver nicknamed "angles and dangles" in which the sub shifts directions and depths. During these 30-knot exercises, passive sonar does not work. But afterward, the ship's computer showed that the noise was still present.
The executive officer, Cmdr. Pfeifer, went to the sonar room to observe. At some point, one or more of those in the control room believed the signal must have been that of a small fishing boat.
Submarine experts say that, if the Japanese vessel and the U.S. sub were headed toward each other at that point, a phenomenon known as "bow null" could have occurred. Under this scenario, the hull of the oncoming trawler blunts its engine noise.
At this point, the Greeneville prepared for an emergency full ballast blow. The sub went to 60-foot depth and the officer of the deck did two complete, 360-degree periscope sweeps. He did not see any surface ships, nor did any show up on the TV screens.
Cmdr. Waddle then checked himself. He focused on the bearing the sonar provided of the noise. He then ordered the sub raised two feet and increased the periscope's magnification. Next, he ordered the closed-circuit TVs turned off.
"He just didn't see the ship," said the Navy source who spoke to The Times. "It was camouflaged, basically, and he had a very narrow aspect to look at. He was apparently looking close to a bow-on view."
Cmdr. Waddle ordered the ship to descend, probably to a depth of around 400 feet. Of the civilians on board, three were allowed to take part. One switched on the full ballast blow; one sat at the helmsman's seat controlling the directional rudder; and one sounded the horn signaling the rush to the surface to begin.
The Greeneville's helmsman set the sub's surfacing course. He had his hands on the wheel and closely supervised the civilian. Seconds later, the Greeneville smashed into the Ehime Maru, its rudder splitting the fishing vessel's hull.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and various Navy officials say there is no evidence the civilians' presence contributed to the accident.
The source also placed importance on the fact that aboard the Greeneville was Capt. Bob Brandhuber, a former submarine commander who is chief of staff to Adm. Konetzni.
"If Cmdr. Waddle wasn't doing his duty, that guy would have said something," the official said. "That indicates what Waddle did was reasonable."
If the Greeneville spent about four minutes underwater, and the Ehime Maru was traveling at 12 knots as reported, the vessel could have been a mile or less away during the periscope scans.
After the periscope search, the Greeneville submerged deeper, went away from the Ehime Maru, reversed course to the left and then apparently headed back toward the trawler before surfacing.
Adm. Fargo ordered the Court of Inquiry after Rear Adm. Charles Griffiths Jr. submitted a confidential report on the accident.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide