Argentina should not repeat the mistakes of the US Navy with the USS Thresher
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Argentina should not repeat the mistakes of the US Navy with the USS Thresher


In an effort to avoid implicating US Navy personnel in the loss of the US nuclear submarine Thresher - and the 129 men aboard - on 10 April 1963, the US Navy Court of inquiry (COI) ignored the results of their own tests, attempted to discredit a COI witness, and either discredited, suppressed or ignored compelling evidence that disproved their basic conclusion that Thresher was lost because of flooding that occurred at a depth of 400m (1300-feet). The COI attributed their conjectured flooding to the failure of workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to properly weld (silver-braze) sea-connected pipes.

Nearly all of those falsely accused shipyard workers have since died still bearing the mantle of guilt created by the COI's erroneous conclusion. Fifty-seven years after the disaster, the US Navy's official position on the loss of Thresher remains ”flooding.”

The US Navy is making extensive efforts to block or seriously delay a current attempt to obtain Thresher COI documents by claiming that 57-year old information is still classified SECRET despite the fact that it has been openly published for more than 20 years.

Obfuscation and denial remains the US Navy's modus operandi and, as such, are an unfortunate part of the legacy of the loss of the USS Thresher.

Argentine authorities should avoid making the same mistake the US Navy did by attributing blame for the loss of the ARA San Juan to individuals who were ashore when that tragedy occurred and were in no way responsible for the disaster.

Why the San Juan was lost can be established by the content of messages sent by the San Juan on 15 November 2017 and by analyses of acoustic detections by the collapse of the San Juan at the extreme depth of 468m (1535-feet). That detection was made by undersea sensors of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization (Ctbto).

What the US navy knew in 1963 and ignored

- That Thresher never mentioned “flooding” in any underwater communications with her escort ship.

- That the COI's own test proved conclusively that massive flooding at great depth would have created enormous noise levels within Thresher that would have made underwater communications with her escort ship impossible.

- That about 90 seconds before Thresher collapsed, she sent a coded message that indicated her depth was 670m (2200-feet).

This is some of the evidence the US Navy chose to ignore to avoid implicating Navy personnel in the loss of Thresher.


The US Navy's Inquiry into the loss of the USS Thresher remains – after 57 years - an example of how NOT to conduct such an investigation. Such investigations should be based on documented (technically verified) information.

As noted above, that information is available for the San Juan and it does NOT support accusations that ARA personnel ashore at the time of the tragedy were responsible for the event.

Argentine authorities should acknowledge that the effort to implicate ARA personnel who were ashore when the San Juan was lost represents an attempt to escape recriminations arising from acknowledging the actual responsibility for the disaster identified by the San Juan messages and the Ctbto acoustic data. Those messages discuss actions that directly resulted in the loss of the San Juan.

Messages sent by the San Juan on 15 November 2017 confirm beyond all doubt that the submarine was lost because the Commanding Officer ordered the San Juan to submerge at about 1152 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and continue the transit to the north. When submerged, the San Juan could not ventilate to exchange air within the submarine for outside air which allowed hydrogen - an odorless and colorless gas - produced by the water-damaged batteries to accumulate to explosive levels. It is estimated that explosion occurred at about 1330 GMT. It killed the entire San Juan crew instantly. If the San Juan had remained on the surface ventilating all compartments, the submarine would not have been lost on 15 November 2017. ARA personnel ashore who have been found culpable (deserving of blame or censure) by the Court in the loss of the San Juan were in no way responsible for the disaster.

Basically, the Court appears to have surrendered its authority to public anger that the San Juan was lost and the need to punish those still living despite convincing evidence that the disaster occurred because of crew error.

The Court should exercise the "duty of care" concept to protect those who were ashore from false accusations and undeserved punishment.

Based on the failure of the Court to properly evaluate the critical information provided by the San Juan messages, the President of Argentina is urged to annul the Court's San Juan decision and cancel the harsh punitive actions the Court recommended.

The Court's decision was not justice, it was misdirected vengeance.

The mistakes made by the Thresher Court of Inquiry in 1963 should NOT be repeated by Argentine authorities investigating in 2020 the loss of the ARA San Juan in 2017.


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