, Newburyport, MA

Local News

February 27, 2013

Remembering the Thresher

Ceremony to mark 50th anniversary of submarine disaster


Then came Thursday, April 11, when Chief of Naval Operation Admiral George W. Anderson announced “with deep regret” that boat and all aboard — 16 officers, 96 enlisted men and 21 civilians — had indeed been lost.

The USS Skylark had accompanied Thresher on sea trials, hearing her last words at 9:13 a.m. on that fateful Wednesday relaying a message that she was experiencing “minor difficulties.” But quickly following came a series of unintelligible verbal fragments. By 9:18 a.m., Skylark’s sonar picked up the sounds of the ship breaking apart.

The Thresher’s last understandable report came as she began a maximum test dive. The depth to which the sub had planned to descend was classified, Anderson said, but then he explained to a horrified nation that the chance of finding any survivors was gone.

“If this submarine sank in the water of that depth in which she was operating,” Anderson said, “I would say that there would be absolutely no possibility that (those aboard) would still be alive.”

On board were Steinel of Salisbury Beach, Robert E. Charron and Donald Day, both of Newburyport, and Fred Abrams, of Kittery, Maine, whose sister lived in Salisbury at the time.

According to The Daily News on April 11, 1963, Steinel, of Railroad Avenue, was a veteran sailor with 16 years of service to his country, with a wife and three little children. Charron, of Federal Street, was a husband and father of five, a civilian electronics technician at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on board just for the sea trials. Day listed an address on Inn Street, and Abrams was also a civilian from the shipyard.

Over the decades that followed, family members and the region would never forget those who lost their lives on the Thresher, holding yearly memorials, particularly in Portsmouth and Arlington National Cemetery.

The Navy’s extensive investigation into the Thresher disaster indicated a leak in an engine room seawater system as the most probable cause of the tragedy, as well as other probable causes discovered by the Navy’s research and that of a Congressional inquiry. After locating the Thresher’s imploded remains on the sea floor, a Court of Inquiry found she most likely sank due to a piping failure that led to a loss of power that prevented the ship from blowing its ballast tanks fast enough to avoid sinking.

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