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Navy: Human error led to sub Montpelier collision in 2012

Jun. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Attack submarine Montpelier returning to port Oct. 14, 2012, a day after its collision with the cruiser San Jacinto during a fleet exercise. The collision dislodged the sub's upper vertical rudder, missing from this photo.
Attack submarine Montpelier returning to port Oct. 14, 2012, a day after its collision with the cruiser San Jacinto during a fleet exercise. The collision dislodged the sub's upper vertical rudder, missing from this photo. (MC2 Mike DiMestico/Navy)
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NORFOLK, VA. — The primary reason a submarine and a guided-missile cruiser collided off the coast of Florida during a 2012 training exercise was human error and poor teamwork by the submarine’s watch team, according to a Navy investigation released on Tuesday.

The investigation details the events leading up to the collision between the Norfolk-based USS San Jacinto and the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Montpelier, which were participating in an anti-submarine warfare exercise in the Jacksonville, Florida, operating area as part of an aircraft carrier’s pre-deployment training.

The San Jacinto was one of two ships that was supposed to protect the USS Harry S. Truman as part of the exercise, while the Montpelier was playing the role of aggressor. However, the report also noted that the San Jacinto wasn’t fully focused on the anti-submarine warfare exercise because it was distracted with higher-priority carrier flight operations, among other things.

The Navy released the redacted report in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by news outlets more than a year ago.

The investigation also faulted the Montpelier’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Thomas Winter, for failing to follow basic established periscope depth operating procedures. The depth the submarine was operating at was redacted, but the report noted that Winter ordered that it go to “emergency deep” after watch standers realized how close it was to the San Jacinto. Winter was relieved of his duties following the collision due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command.

The report also faulted the Navy’s chain of command for failing to properly plan the exercise.

“The number one priority of any exercise is safety. This must be ingrained in our naval force. Regrettably, it is not,” wrote Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, in endorsing the investigation’s findings. “We must ensure the lessons learned from this accident are implanted into our officers and sailors. We will not repeat this failure.”

No injuries occurred as a result of the collision, but ship repairs were necessary. The report said both ships suffered extensive damage. The Montpelier’s rudder was dislodged as a result of the collision, but its propulsion plant was unaffected. The San Jacinto’s sonar dome had extensive metal deformation, tears and flapping metal with exposed wiring.

The report estimated that repairs for both ships could exceed $43 million.

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