[FoRK] The US media

Gordon Mohr gojomofork at xavvy.com
Fri Jan 14 21:58:14 PST 2005

This is a followup story with more color and detail; witness its
narrative-style opening which takes many paragraphs to get to its
main topic, charting flaws.

The original NYT reporting was on Tuesday (after a brief wire
report on Sunday before the fatality was known):


   Navy Says Sub Hit Mountain That Was Not on Its Charts
   Published: January 11, 2005

   A nuclear attack submarine that ran aground Saturday in
   the South Pacific, killing one sailor and injuring 23
   others, appears to have smashed into an undersea mountain
   that was not on its charts, Navy officials said yesterday.

That article was the breaking news, starting with the most
prominent facts: the death and injuries.

- Gordon

Owen Byrne wrote:
> I found this story interesting, mostly because of the "lots to learn 
> about the ocean" angle. Just wondering - in this country if a sailor 
> died it would be at the very top - in big headlines - "Sailor Killed in 
> Submarine Mishap" Is it a NYT thing or a US media thing that I had to 
> read to the very last line of the story to discover that someone had 
> been killed. Perhaps I missed the more sensationalist coverage.
> Owen
> http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/15/national/15submarine.html
>>           January 15, 2005
>>     Submarine Crash Shows Navy Had Gaps in Mapping System
>> Sailors on the San Francisco, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, had 
>> just finished cleaning the vessel last Saturday as it sped along 500 
>> feet beneath the surface of the South Pacific. Submarines run blind, 
>> just listening for sounds of danger. And to the captain and other 
>> officers relying on undersea navigation charts, everything seemed clear.
>> Suddenly, there was a horrible screeching. And according to an e-mail 
>> message written by a crew member, the inside of the submarine quickly 
>> resembled a scene from the movie "The Matrix." He wrote, "Everything 
>> slowed down and levitated and then went flying forward faster than the 
>> brain can process."
>> The submarine had crashed head-on into an undersea mountain that was 
>> not on the charts. One sailor was killed, and about 60 others were 
>> injured. Now, Defense Department officials say they have found a 
>> satellite image taken in 1999 that indicates an undersea mountain 
>> rising to perhaps within 100 feet below the surface there.
>> But the older navigation charts provided to the Navy were never 
>> updated to show the obstruction, they acknowledge, in part because the 
>> agency that creates them has never had the resources to use the 
>> satellite data systematically.
>> The officials said the main chart on the submarine, prepared in 1989 
>> and never revised, did not show any potential obstacles within three 
>> miles of the crash. They said the incident happened in such a desolate 
>> area - 360 miles southeast of Guam - that updating their depiction of 
>> the undersea terrain was never considered a priority.
>> The new information about the charting flaws also illustrates what 
>> many experts say is a broader danger not only to submarines but also 
>> to many surface ships. At the same time, it provides a glimpse into 
>> the arcane task of plotting an undersea world that in some areas is 
>> still more mysterious than the surfaces of Mars or Venus.
>> A variety of satellite data is now showing that many sea charts, 
>> including some that still rely on notations from the days when sailors 
>> navigated by the stars, are inaccurate. And some scientists are 
>> calling for greater use of satellite data to fix more precisely the 
>> location of undersea ridges, islands and even continental boundaries 
>> and to chart large, less studied areas of the oceans.
>> The latest disclosures support the account by the commanding officer 
>> of the San Francisco that the charts showed that his track was clear. 
>> But former submarine captains said Navy investigators were likely to 
>> examine whether it had been prudent to travel at such a high speed, 30 
>> knots, given the age and spottiness of the information.
>> Officials said the main chart on the submarine was prepared by the 
>> Defense Mapping Agency in August 1989. That office was later absorbed 
>> into the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a part of the 
>> Defense Department that provides maps, sea charts and other geographic 
>> intelligence to the nation's combat forces.
>> Chris Andreasen, the chief hydrographer for the Office of Global 
>> Navigation at the intelligence agency, acknowledged in an interview 
>> that on the chart, "there's nothing shown that would be a hazard" at 
>> the crash site.
>> But since the accident, Mr. Andreasen said, his office has examined 
>> commercially available images taken by a Landsat satellite in 1999, 
>> and at least one image indicates that an undersea mountain could rise 
>> to within 100 feet of the surface there. Analysts say variations in 
>> water color can sometimes indicate a land mass below.
>> Mr. Andreasen said his agency had not normally used satellite imagery 
>> to update sea charts, though it recently began using the images to 
>> help pinpoint the boundaries of islands and other land masses. He and 
>> other officials said that the charting office's staff had shrunk in 
>> recent years, and that the Navy never asked it to focus on the area 
>> south of Guam, where it began basing submarines in 2002.
>> Current and former Navy officials say the main focus during the cold 
>> war was charting areas in the Northern Pacific and in Arctic seas 
>> where missile and surveillance submarines guarded against a Soviet 
>> attack. Since then, the Navy has been trying to improve charts of 
>> shallower coastal waters in the Middle East and other areas where it 
>> might have to help battle terrorists.
>> Mr. Andreasen said that since global positioning satellites came into 
>> wide use in the 1980's, Navy and commercial ships had had a much more 
>> accurate way to fix the coordinates of islands, undersea volcanoes and 
>> other parts of the giant mountain ranges that jut up from the ocean 
>> floor.
>> "G.P.S. is changing the world," he said.
>> As ships have reported these coordinates, sea-charting offices around 
>> the world have found that many islands were "maybe a mile or two out 
>> of position" on widely used charts, he said. So over the past year, 
>> his agency has been using the Landsat images and other data to update 
>> many nations' boundaries.
>> But Mr. Andreasen and other scientists said that while commercial 
>> shipping interests had helped chart the most common transit routes, 
>> large areas of the ocean depths remained little charted.
>> Dr. David T. Sandwell, a geophysics professor at the Scripps 
>> Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said that about 40 percent 
>> of the oceans were "very, very poorly charted, and those areas are 
>> mostly in the Southern Hemisphere."
>> While many sea charts include obstacles and features spotted by 
>> commercial vessels, World War II warships and even 19th-century 
>> explorers, the best charts are made by survey ships that use sound 
>> beams to create detailed pictures of the undersea terrain. The Navy 
>> has only seven such ships, however, and scientists say it could take 
>> decades to chart the rest of the seas thoroughly.
>> As a result, Dr. Sandwell and others have suggested that the 
>> government make rough chartings of more areas with another type of 
>> satellite - one that uses radar to measure variations in the height of 
>> the ocean that can signal if mountains are below.
>> Dr. Sandwell said readings by one such satellite in the mid-1980's 
>> also indicated there could be an undersea mountain at the San 
>> Francisco's crash site. But he said the margin of error was too large 
>> for the studies to be conclusive. And Mr. Andreasen said much of the 
>> satellite data was too vague for precise charting.
>> Mr. Andreasen said the main chart used on the submarine showed that 
>> the only concerns were a small area of discolored water that had been 
>> noted three miles from the crash site and some coral reefs about 10 
>> miles away.
>> Notes on the chart indicated that the discolored water was mentioned 
>> on a British sea chart in 1963, and Mr. Andreasen said the notation 
>> might even go back to World War II. He said the discoloration might 
>> have been just a temporary disturbance, or it could have been a sign 
>> of the undersea ridge.
>> Other notes suggest that some ships had reported depths of 5,000 to 
>> 6,000 feet nearby. But Mr. Andreasen said few commercial ships used 
>> the area, and "it has never been systematically surveyed."
>> Navy officials declined to comment, saying they are investigating the 
>> accident.
>> The submarine left Guam on Jan. 7 for Brisbane, Australia. The Navy 
>> said 23 of the sailors were seriously injured, and at least five had 
>> broken bones.
>> The e-mail message by the sailor was sent to several people involved 
>> with submarines, and as it circulated within the submarine community, 
>> one person provided a copy to The New York Times.
>> The sailor wrote that many crew members were eating lunch at the time 
>> of the crash, which severely damaged the vessel's bow. He said several 
>> sailors suffered "bad head wounds," and men in the engine room smashed 
>> against "lots of metal and sharp edges."
>> Still, he said that the vessel's damage control party "did everything 
>> exactly right even though they were hurt as well."
>> The message also said that the submarine was lucky to have an extra 
>> medic on board, and that its main medic, known as a corpsman, did not 
>> sleep during the two-day trip back to port.
>> The Navy has said a machinist's mate second class, Joseph A. Ashley of 
>> Akron, Ohio, was knocked unconscious by the crash and died the next 
>> day from severe head injuries. The e-mail message said other sailors 
>> were surprised that the corpsman "got him to hold on as long as he did."
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