Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ten years on: The terrifying explosion that killed two submariners

The tragedy occurred when the nuclear-powered HMS Tireless was under the Arctic ice cap.

Gayle Herald, Plymouth Herald
21 March 2017

PLYMOUTH, UK – March 21, 2007, will forever be etched into the memory of the crew of HMS Tireless.
The submariners battled furiously for more than 40 minutes to rescue two trapped comrades after an explosion under the Arctic ice.
Leading Operator Mechanic Paul McCann, aged 32, and Submariner Anthony Huntrod, 20, were killed in the early hours of Wednesday, March 21, 2007, following the explosion onboard the Devonport-based submarine.
The blast in a confined compartment of the nuclear-powered sub, which was submerged under the Arctic icecap during a joint British-American exercise, was caused by a damaged Self-Contained Oxygen Generator (Scog) moments after it was activated by one of the men.
It later emerged the device - used to boost oxygen levels on submarines - may have been recycled from a hazardous waste dump at Devonport and brought back into service as a cost-cutting measure.
For 44 minutes after the blast, submariners Huntrod and McCann were trapped, along with stores accountant Richard Holleworth, while comrades tried to break open hatch doors which had buckled.
By the time a crowbar was used to get access, the two men were dead, while Mr. Holleworth had collapsed.
LOM McCann could have survived if he had been reached earlier, an inquest later heard.
Mr. Holleworth was already seriously hurt when he braved blinding smoke in a bid to save his two colleagues.
The 35-year-old told the inquest into his colleagues' deaths that the thought of his unborn son saved his life.
"My head was spinning and I was beginning to accept my fate," he said.
"I don't know how long I was sat there before I came out of the daze.
"I was sat on the floor holding his hand when I suddenly thought of my fiancée who was seven or eight months pregnant back at home. It was like a sudden bolt of rage smashing through. I thought he is not going to see his Dad.
"I remember shouting at Tony 'we have got to get on EBS or we are dead'."
Guided by the light of instruments, he staggered to an oxygen relay point and pulled on a mask. "All I remember is slumping to the floor. I accept that I must have just passed out."
He was roused 40 minutes later by the ship's crew attempting to breach the escape compartment.
His two colleagues could not be saved.
LOM Paul McCann, had submitted his notice to leave the Royal Navy having become engaged to his girlfriend in Philadelphia, America, not long before the tragedy.
A keen sportsman, he had represented both his home team and the Navy at cricket and played rugby for Plymouth Command and Old Halesowians.
Operator Maintainer Anthony Huntred, from Sunderland, had only been with HMS Tireless for nine months and had served in the Royal Navy for two years.
Following his death, his family said: "He will be greatly missed by us for the rest of our lives. He was over the moon when he joined the Navy.
"He greatly loved the Navy and the job that he did."
Not long before his death, he qualified as a submariner on board HMS Tireless, gaining the coveted award of the Dolphins badge.
Paying tribute to the young sailor, Commanding Officer of HMS Tireless, Commander Iain Breckenridge, said: "I consider myself fortunate and privileged to have worked with such a committed, capable and effervescent young man and it was rare that I talked to him without both of us breaking into beaming smiles.
"Anthony stood at the cusp of a successful career. His loss has been profoundly felt by all on board but our thoughts are very much with his family and friends to whom every man on board HMS Tireless passes his deepest sympathy."
LOM McCann, from Halesowen, West Midlands, was born on Christmas Day 1974 and joined the Royal Navy in November 2001.
He joined HMS Tireless in June 2004 and deployed to the North Polar Ice Cap on March 2, 2007.
He thrived on looking after the junior members of the ship's company and would always be available for advice, the MoD said.
His shipmates said he was considered a role model by his subordinates, who greatly appreciated his selfless participation and encouragement of their training.
In a tribute to LOM McCann, Cdr Breckenridge said: "He was simply the kind of man a commanding officer could call on at any time and in any circumstances – his exuberance, good humor and huge personality are greatly missed by all of his shipmates."
He was described by his mother Pauline, father Brian and sister Sharon as "a caring and gentle man who loved his family and was a great uncle to Indea and Lotte".
The Armed Forces Minister apologized after a coroner criticized the "systemic failures" which caused the explosion.
Bob Ainsworth admitted that "avoidable failings" brought about the blast on the Devonport-based attack killer after Sunderland Coroner Derek Winter criticized the Ministry of Defense’s handling of Scogs in his narrative verdict.
Almost 1,000 of the devices were recycled from a hazardous waste dump at Devonport and brought back into service by a civil servant as a cost-cutting measure.
"His decision was inappropriate," Mr. Winter said
No consideration was made to how they had been stored and their safety during that time, said the coroner.
While it was impossible to say whether the Scog which exploded was one saved from the dump, Mr Winter said it was a "significant possibility".
Scogs were not properly inspected, left in the open air, roughly handled and badly stored on board.
"There was a culture of complacency regarding the risks posed by Scogs and a tolerance of practices likely to increase those risks," Mr. Winter said.
He also criticized the decision to reissue the Scogs from the dump: "Those systemic failures led to the contamination and damage, in turn, caused the explosion."
Following the inquest, Mr. Ainsworth replied: "I would like to unreservedly apologies to the families, as I have done previously in the House and in person, for the avoidable failings, for which this department is responsible, which brought about this tragic incident."
During the seven-week inquest, it was revealed that Scogs were no longer in use on the British submarine flotilla.
After the verdict, Mr. Huntrod's mother, Brenda Gooch, said: "Two young men died through a lack of duty to care for their safety.
"The complacency across the whole chain of acquisitions, storage and handling is unforgivable to us."
Mother Pauline McCann said: "You can look at cost-cutting on some things, but not on life-saving equipment."
Seven submariners were honored with one of the Royal Navy's highest awards for their desperate attempts to save their crew mates.
They each received the Commendation of the Commander-in- Chief Fleet for their "outstanding response" following the incident.
The Navy did not release the names or ranks of those honored.
Following the tragedy, HMS Tireless' Commander Iain Breckenridge praised his crew.
Referring to Richard Holleworth's actions, he said: "In particular I would like to mention our crew member who was injured by the initial blast and thrown to the deck.
"He recovered himself, despite his injuries, placed an emergency breathing mask on his face and in complete darkness and zero visibility, due to the smoke, extinguished the numerous small fires in the compartment and allowed access to the firefighting and medical teams."
CDR Breckenridge added: "I am hugely proud of my entire ship's company who acted in a totally professional manner throughout, dealing with the incident calmly and to the highest standards you would expect of the service.
"Due to the training received and the whole team effort, the incident was contained and HMS Tireless was able to safely return to Devonport."
A Royal Navy investigation into the tragedy highlighted a series of failings regarding the use of Scogs.
A Board of Inquiry found the devices had been left on a jetty for weeks and returned to service despite being condemned.
The Royal Navy investigation also revealed that eight other problems were reported with Scogs during the Tireless deployment; seven misfired and one caught fire, emitting four-inch flames.
Other submarines had also reported problems.
HMS Superb reported a SCOG fire in June 2006 while Devonport- based HMS Trafalgar had two similar fires in October 2004.
A series of problems were also recorded between November 2003 and June 2006 including 12 misfires aboard HMS Torbay.
The inquiry also exposed how nearly 1,000 oxygen generators that had been condemned were returned to stock at Devonport after a visual inspection.
Tests carried out by NASA concluded that the explosion onboard HMS Tireless had most likely been caused by oil contaminating the generators.
Launched in 1984, Cold War warrior HMS Tireless was the longest serving nuclear-powered sub in the Royal Navy.
Tireless played a vital role in the Cold War for the majority of her service, used for coastal surveillance and for the protection of other submarines and ships.
She then was involved in various under ice exercises, and surfaced in the North Pole three times from 1991-2007.
In 2010, Tireless completed a 10 month deployment, the longest deployment made by a UK SSN at that time.
In 2014, the submarine was deployed to help locate the black box of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
She returned to HMNB Devonport for the final time on June 1, 2014, to be dismantled at Devonport Dockyard, where, at the time, 11 other nuclear submarines were waiting to be disposed of.
Commander R. Hywel Griffiths spent three quarters of his sea going career on board HMS Tireless.
During her decommissioning ceremony at HM Naval Base Devonport, He said: "She's been our home and our fighting platform; she is part of the family.
"I feel very attached to the ship's company, and we're attached by a camaraderie that's quite hard to explain.
"The most difficult part of our job is when the program changes and we get extended as we then have to explain that to our loved ones."

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