KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - A 13-year project to create a new artificial reef off theFlorida Keys for sport divers and anglers culminated Wednesday withthe scuttling of a 523-foot-long former U.S. Air Force missiletracking ship.
It took just a minute and 54 seconds to sink the Gen. Hoyt S.Vandenberg after demolition experts triggered a series ofexplosives that lined both sides of the ship's bilge area below thewaterline. Key West City Manager and Vandenberg projectadministrator Jim Scholl confirmed the ship settled on the bottomof the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in an uprightposition.
A dive team verified that all charges exploded, Scholl said, butsaid they were continuing assessments to verify the wreck'sstructural integrity before opening it up to the public fordiving.
"It was a pretty cool experience," said Joe Weatherby, whoorganized Artificial Reefs of the Keys in 1996 and chose theVandenberg from about 400 decommissioned military ships rustingaway in "Ghost Fleets" across the country. "We waited for it a reallong time.
"We think this is really going to be a home run for both ourenvironment and our economy down here," he said. "This is goodbusiness and at the same time we're taking pressure off our naturalcoral reefs."
Weatherby said it should not take long for the Vandenberg toattract fish.
"The marine life grows on the wreck and the little fish come andthe big fish eat the little fish and just like that," he said.
The ship is now the second largest vessel in the world everpurposely sunk to become an artificial reef. The sinking alsocomplete the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail, a series ofintentionally sunk vessels that begins off Key Largo with a formerNavy landing ship dock, the Spiegel Grove, and ends with theVandenberg.
Several of the ship's veterans witnessed the scuttling.
"I can't believe it could sink that fast," said Charles PatrickSherlock, 64, a Cocoa Beach, Fla., resident who worked as atelemetry technician from 1976 to 78. "It's kind of scary to thinkabout, actually, we used to live on that ship, and see how quick itwent under.
"I am planning to come back in a few weeks with a group of guys(fellow Vandenberg veterans) who could not be here today, so we canall dive it," he said.
Ridding the vessel of contaminants consumed 70 percent of the$8.6 million project's funding resources and some 75,000 man-hours.That work was done in two Norfolk, Va., shipyards.
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