Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Breadth, depth of diesel sub's career recalled


Sign On San Diego
By Steve Liewer
November 22, 2006

JOHN GASTALDO / Union-Tribune
Chief of the boat Joseph Eller, right, leads off

the last of the boat's crew. Following him are
Petty Officer Douglas Sharp, Lt. Commander
Edison Henry, Lt. Michael Church and Chief
Petty Officer Tony Endquist.

SAN DIEGO – With the tolling of bells and the boom of a cannon, the Navy bid farewell Friday to its last remaining diesel submarine, the Dolphin.

About 400 people, most of them crew members or civilians who worked with the Dolphin during its 38-year career, stood under cloudy skies in a stiff breeze to salute the sub as at rocked gently pierside at Point Loma Submarine Base.

“The USS Dolphin means a lot to a lot of people,” said Cmdr. Andrew Wilde, who took command of the ship last December. “It is more than just the last vestige of the once-robust diesel fleet.”

The science and research vessel compiled a long list of landmark accomplishments since its commissioning at Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Shipyard in 1968. Early in its life, the Dolphin set a record for the deepest dive by a conventional submarine of more than 3,000 feet. It also is credited with the first two-way laser communication between a submarine and an aircraft and the deepest launch of a torpedo.

The Dolphin nearly sank in May 2002 when seawater poured through the hatch and damaged the electrical system as the ship's crew tested acoustic torpedoes about 100 miles southwest of San Diego. Two surface ships rescued the 43 sailors on board, and the Dolphin was towed to port.

The Navy spent $50 million and 3½ years repairing and upgrading the ship, and it returned to service in the fall of 2005. But barely three months later, its crew learned the ship would be retired in a budget-cutting move that will save about $14 million a year.

Navy officials said in an administrative message Sept. 6 the ship would be sunk as part of a military exercise.

But Capt. Zoltan Kelety, current chief of staff for the Naval Mine and Antisubmarine Warfare Command and a former Dolphin skipper, said in an interview at least two groups have expressed interest in preserving the ship as a museum piece. He said he would like to see it on the San Diego waterfront near the retired aircraft carrier that's already there.
“If I could think of a perfect spot, it would be right over next to the Midway,” Kelety said.

There's a little time to figure that out; the Dolphin isn't scheduled to be stricken from the Navy's rolls until Dec. 8.



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