May 21, 1968 the last signals from the United States’ nuclear submarine USS Scorpion were heard. From shortly before midnight on the 20th of May through midnight on the 21st the Scorpion tried to send radio traffic to the Naval Station in Rota Spain, but was only able to reach a Naval communications station in Nea Makri, Greece. These messages were forwarded to SUBPLANT. Six Days later the submarine was reported overdue at Norfolk.
Bow section of the sunken Scorpion containing two nuclear torpedoes on the sea floor. US Navy photo.
Scorpion and her crew were declared “presumed lost” on 5 June. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 30 June. The public search continued with a team of mathematical consultants led by Dr. John Piña Craven, the Chief Scientist of the U.S. Navy’s Special Projects Division. They employed the methods of Bayesian search theory, initially developed during the search for a hydrogen bomb lost off the coast of Palomares, Spain, in January 1966 in the Palomares B-52 crash.
Some reports indicate that a large and secret search was launched three days before Scorpion was expected back from patrol; this, combined with other declassified information, leads to speculation that the US Navy knew of the Scorpion’s destruction before the public search was launched.
At the end of October 1968, the Navy’s oceanographic research ship, Mizar, located sections of the hull of Scorpion on the seabed, about 740 km (400 nmi; 460 mi) southwest of the Azores, under more than 3,000 m (9,800 ft) of water. This was after the Navy had released sound tapes from its underwater
Although Craven received much credit for locating the wreckage of Scorpion, Gordon Hamilton—an acoustics expert who pioneered the use of hydroacoustics to pinpoint Polaris missile splashdown locations—was instrumental in defining a compact “search box” wherein the wreck was ultimately found. Hamilton had established a listening station in the Canary Islands, which obtained a clear signal of what some scientists believe was the noise of the vessel’s pressure hull imploding as she passed below crush depth. A Naval Research Laboratory scientist named Chester “Buck” Buchanan, using a towed camera sled of his own design aboard Mizar, finally located Scorpion. The towed camera sled, which was fabricated by J. L. “Jac” Hamm of Naval Research Laboratory’s Engineering Services Division, is housed in the U.S. Navy Museum. Buchanan had located the wrecked hull of Thresher in 1964 using this technique. Read More