Navy plans to sink ship for reef
Already, excitement builds in the scuba-diving world.
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) -- The "Mighty O" saw action in Korea and Vietnam and was home base of U.S. Sen. John McCain before he was taken captive by the North Vietnamese, but the aircraft carrier's greatest fame could come when it's on the ocean floor.
If all goes according to plan, explosives will be placed throughout the largely hollowed-out shell of the USS Oriskany in May and it will plummet 210 feet to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
The ship, featured in the films "The Bridges of Toko Ri" and "The Men of the Fighting Lady," will become the world's largest intentionally created man-made reef, drawing divers and sport fisherman worldwide.
Eileen Beard, who owns the Scuba Shack, a local dive shop, said she and many other divers are making plans to explore the Oriskany underwater this year.
"From the moment she goes down, she'll create sounds in the water and the sandstorm that she will cause will draw fish that want to see what it is. It will begin to attract life immediately," Beard said.
"We have had calls from England, Germany, Japan, Thailand. They are all ready to dive the Oriskany."
After nearly two years of delays since the Navy first announced Pensacola as the site of a pilot program to reef old warships, the Environmental Protection Agency gave final approval in February to sink the ship.
Local leaders are counting on the sinking to bring their city's tourism industry out of a hurricane-induced slump.
"In the long haul you are looking at the rebirth of one of the historically successful industries of Pensacola, that's the fishing and diving industry. The Oriskany puts Pensacola on the plans for virtually any diver and fisherman in the country," said Ed Schroeder, tourism director for the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.
More than 2,500 Oriskany veterans made plans to come to Pensacola for the first scheduled sinking of the Oriskany in the summer of 2004. The group was courting McCain as their keynote speaker.
But the sinking never took place. The Oriskany was not towed to Pensacola until December 2004; it was then towed back to Texas in June to ride out the 2005 hurricane season.
Now the Navy plans to tow the Oriskany from Beaumont, Texas, back to Pensacola this month to begin the three-month process of preparing the ship for sinking.
Retired Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman, president and CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and a longtime advocate for the Oriskany project, said the ship could be sunk May 15, but that date could change.
Regardless of the exact date the ship goes down, a celebration will soon be in order.
"Now that we have the permit and we are all set with the tentative date .... this is a big feat for Pensacola," Fetterman said.
If the Oriskany goes down as planned, 23 ships that are part of the Navy's inactive fleet could become eligible for sinking.
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