On 10 April 1963, the USS Thresher (SSN-593) sank with all hands during sea trials off the Massachusetts coast. At the time, I was the shipyard watch officer at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where the submarine was undergoing maintenance as part of a post-shakedown availability (PSA). I had the honor of knowing many of the crew members.
The Navy introduced the Submarine Safety (SubSafe) Program following the Thresher’s loss, and it has taken many steps to ensure that neither the problems uncovered nor the casualties are forgotten. More important, the procedures instituted in the aftermath continue to be rigidly followed. Nevertheless, as the recent collisions involving the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) show, safety at sea is an ongoing challenge. Most people working on submarines today were not around when the Thresher was lost, and though SubSafe training includes reference to the Thresher tragedy, we still have much to learn from the details.