ABOARD THE MV DELAWARE (AP) - Some sailors who served on the Navy destroyer USS Arthur W. Radford gathered Wednesday to watch it be pushed to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to become part of a manmade reef.
"It's sad to see it being sunk," said Lee String, 46, of Westville, N.J., who served on the ship in 1985 as a welder, pipefitter and plumber. "It was once a proud-looking ship, but it's better to see it go to that purpose rather than razor blades."
Officials say the 563-foot ship, which was decommissioned in 2003, is the longest vessel ever sunk as an artificial reef in the Atlantic Ocean.
It took about 3 1/2 hours for the ship to submerge. Water initially entered the ship through the seacocks and started flooding the bottom of the hull. Then, just before 4 p.m., the bow went up slightly and the stern quickly flooded as the ship went down.
"I didn't think she was going to do it at first. She definitely took her own sweet time going down," said Scott Horne, 39, of Portsmouth, Va., who served a tour of duty on the ship. "She always put up a fight for a lot of things when we were under way. She always had her own way of doing things, but the mission always got accomplished. It's the same with this - she put up a fight, and then when she finally decided to let go, she did."
Plenty of manmade objects, including several retired New York City subway cars, are already submerged in the Atlantic to create habitats for sea life and new opportunities for deep-sea anglers and scuba divers.
The Radford's resting spot is about 130 feet of ocean on what is known as the Del-Jersey-Land reef, named for Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. It lies about 25 miles off the Indian River Inlet in Delaware; Ocean City, Md.; and Cape May, N.J.
"It's been a very quick and relatively inexpensive ship to reef compared to some of the large ships that have been reefed recently," said Jeff Tinsman, reef coordinator with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "We are excited today. This is the last step in the process".
Officials chartered a ferry for those who served on the destroyer, journalists and others to watch the sinking. Many of the more than 200 people who took up the offer were wearing hats or shirts with the destroyer's name. Some carried books of photos that had been taken aboard the Radford.
The ship, named for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Dwight Eisenhower, was launched March 1, 1975, and commissioned two years later. Over the next 26 years, it visited Venezuela, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Senegal, Oman, Bahrain, Nova Scotia, Italy, Turkey and the Azores islands off the coast of Portugal.
One former sailor who watched the sinking planned to visit the ship underwater.
Douglas Warner, 48, of Virginia Beach, Va., just retired after 30 years in Navy, including two years aboard the Radford as a combat systems officer.
"Being a diver myself, I'm looking forward to hopefully next year coming back up here and being able to dive on her," he said.
Also among those attending the event was John Betts, 58, of Rehobeth, Del., who had no link to the ship but was interested in seeing the sinking with his wife.
"It was very interesting. I'm glad we made the trip," Betts said. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity."