Thursday, February 15, 2001
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Updated at 9:29 a.m.,February 15, 2001

Civilian says he pulled levers on submarine

By Jean Christensen
Associated Press Writer

A civilian who was on the Navy submarine that struck a Japanese fishing vessel said today that he pulled levers for the ascent drill but had a crew member right beside him. He also described how the ship “shuddered” at the impact.

John Hall, a civilian who was at the one of the key controls of the USS Greeneville nuclear-powered submarine when it collided with a Japanese fishing vessel, appears on NBC’s "Today" show today morning, Feb. 15, 2001. Hall said he pulled levers to begin the ascent drill but had a crew member beside him.

AP Photo/NBC, "Today" show
“I was to the left in the control room, and I was asked by the captain if I would like the opportunity to pull the levers that start the procedure that’s called the blowdown,” John Hall told NBC’s “Today” show.
“I said, `Sure, I’d love to do that,”’ he said.

Hall said the nearest crew member was “right next to me, elbow to elbow. I mean, what’s important to know here is you don’t do anything on this vessel without someone either showing you how to do it, telling you how to do it, or escorting you around.”

Yesterday, National Transportation Safety Board member John Hammerschmidt had confirmed that a civilian visiting the sub — closely supervised — was allowed to pull the levers that sent the attack submarine Greeneville streaking toward the ocean surface Friday where it sank the Japanese vessel, the Ehime Maru.

“The accident certainly is unusual. In terms of civilians being in those positions — I’m not sure that’s unusual,” Hammerschmidt said.

Nine people, four of them Japanese high school students, were still missing. The Coast Guard said it could call off the search for them as early as today.

Todd Thoman, a civilian who was aboard the USS Greeneville nuclear-powered submarine, appears on NBC’s "Today" show today. Thoman said a periscope was "most definitely" used to check the ocean surface before the submarine blasted to the surface Friday.

AP Photo/NBC, "Today" show
Another civilian, Todd Thoman, told the NBC show that a periscope was “most definitely” used to check the ocean surface before the drill Friday.

“We came up to periscope depth and another member of the crew took the periscope up and made two complete rotations at 360 degrees,” Thoman said.
The captain of the submarine, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, made his own check through the periscope, Thoman said. “We saw no vessel and at that point he said `OK’ and he brought the periscope down and we proceeded with the maneuver,” he said.

Said Hall: “Everything they do involves a procedure. I recall the captain, after he had done his periscope, I recall him calling out ... or a lot of crewmen calling out to him that they had gone through their procedure and the procedures were OK.”

As the submarine surged upward, Hall said, “there was a very loud noise and the entire submarine shuddered.”

According to him, Waddle said “Jesus, what the hell was that?” and looked out the periscope and saw the Ehime Maru.

“Everybody at that point was in shock,” Hall said.

Waddle has been relieved of duty pending the outcome of the investigation.

Yesterday, the Navy acknowledged that the Greeneville was about 3,000 yards east of a submarine test and trial area when it surfaced underneath the Japanese vessel.

The Navy initially had said the submarine was within the 56-square-mile training area designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and marked on nautical charts to caution commercial and recreational craft.

Lt. Cmdr. Conrad Chun, a Pacific Fleet spokesman, stressed that the charts serve only as an advisory and submarines are not restricted to that area.

The Navy has refused to disclose the identities of the 16 civilians visiting on board the Greeneville. It has said they are civic and business officials. The Navy has a longstanding tradition of taking civilians such as relatives of crewmen, Navy supporters and journalists aboard its ships.

Chun said Friday’s civilian tour had been arranged by a former commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, retired Adm. Richard Macke.

Honolulu TV station KITV said members of the excursion were big donors to the USS Missouri Restoration Fund. One of the civilians, Michael Nolan, had helped organize a charity golf tournament in Hawaii last year to benefit the fund, the station said. Nolan and his wife, Susan, confirmed they were on board but wouldn’t comment on the collision.

Chun said Macke, as a battleship USS Missouri volunteer, had referred the group of business leaders for the tour but had been unable to join them.

“The Navy receives referrals from a wide range of organizations and individuals,” Chun said. “It is not uncommon to receive referrals from retired military members.”

Macke was forced to apply for early retirement in 1996 after he suggested that three U.S. servicemen who rented a car to allegedly abduct and rape a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa, Japan, should have hired a prostitute instead.
Macke is now Pacific Region president for Wheat International Communications Corp., of Vienna, Va. He didn’t return telephone calls to his office or home.

Investigators will continue interviewing the submarine’s crew before deciding whether to interview the civilian guests, Hammerschmidt said.

He said one of those guest had been allowed to flip the ballast activation levers, an action that pushes air through the ballast tanks and sends water rushing out to raise the submarine rapidly to the surface. The submarine’s chief of the watch stood next to the civilian and had his hand intertwined with the civilian’s as the levers were pulled, he said.

The submarine’s helmsman, who controls the vertical movement and direction of the submarine, stood over the other civilian, Hammerschmidt said.

The Ehime Maru was on a two-month training trip with students from Uwajima Fisheries High School in southwest Japan. On today, 15 crew members returned home; the fishing vessel’s captain remains in Hawaii.

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