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Vandenberg Fact Summary; Sinking Set For May 27th Off Key West, Florida

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KEY WEST, Florida -- The decommissioned military ship “Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg” will sail on its final voyage, Tuesday, May 26, 2009. It is scheduled to be sunk as an artificial reef the following day.

Vandenberg Fact summary

What: Sinking of the former USAF Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg to become an artificial reef off Key West.

When: Currently planned for Wednesday, May 27. Scheduled time: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. This date and time may be postponed due to unfavorable weather conditions or other unforeseen circumstances.

Background: The retired missile-tracking ship Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg is destined to become the next artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, just south of Key West. The 523-foot-long Vandenberg is to be one of the three largest ships in the world ever intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef. It is steeped in history, once serving as a troop transport ship and then converted for the purposes of defending the U.S. against missile attacks. It was involved in surveillance during the Cold War. It tracked Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and even early Space Shuttle launches. The Vandenberg also played a role as a Russian science ship in the 1999 motion picture "Virus" starring Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland. The project is to provide a new underwater attraction for Key West, creating new marine habitats and relieving sport diving pressure off natural coral reefs. It will also anchor the southwest leg of the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail.

How big is it?

Displacement: 17,250 tons

Length: 522' 10"

Beam: 71' 6"

Draft: 26' 6"

Height: 100 feet from keel to the highest point. We have trimmed the stacks and antennas to allow the required 40 feet of clearance from the surface when the ship is deployed at 140 feet. Much of the superstructure will be just 40-50 feet below the surface. The keel and the four 8-ton anchors will rest at 140 feet.

Where will it be sunk?

At 24.27 N, 81.44 W, between Western Sambo and Sand Key, and south of Hawks Channel marker #32 It is about 7 miles offshore.

The site was carefully chosen ten years ago, with input from many interested parties. Permits from eighteen different agencies define the location.

Over 130 dives were conducted to survey the site. It is on hard barren bottom with no coral and no submerged cultural resources (historic wrecks).

How will they sink it?

Cutting charges will open holes in the lower deck. Water pressure will push the cut-out plates inward, water will flow in at the bottom and air will vent out the top.

The ship has tons of ballast near the keel, which was placed there to create a stable platform for the big tracking antennas.

It will sink straight down in less than three minutes.

What is its history?

1943: built by Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California

1944-46: USS Gen. Harry Taylor commissioned as a troop transport carrying personnel to Atlantic and Pacific Ports. After the surrender of Japan, she was the first ship to return to New York Harbor

1946-50: USAT General Harry Taylor served Army Transport Service, bringing home the troops.

1950-57: USNS General Harry Taylor served the Military Sealift Command, carrying refugees and displaced persons from Europe to America and Australia.

1958: Decommissioned and placed in reserve.

1961: Acquired by the Air force and completely refitted to serve a missile tracking ship.

1963: Re-commissioned as USAFS Gen Hoyt S Vandenberg.

!964-1983: USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg re-acquired by the Navy and continued her mission tracking US and Russian missile launches, and launches of the early space program.

1983: retired and transferred to the Maritime Administration Reserve “Ghost Fleet” on the James River in Virginia.

1996: Used in the Universal Pictures movie, “Virus” (released 1999) starring Donald Sutherland and Jamie Lee Curtis.

1999: Artificial Reefs of the Keys was incorporated, having identified Vandenberg as an ideal candidate for an Artificial Reef.

March 31, 2007: towed from the reserve fleet to a shipyard in Norfolk Virginia to begin the extensive cleaning process.

April 12, 2009: towed from Norfolk, bound for Key West.

April 22, 2009: Vandenberg arrived at the Truman annex dock in Key West for the final preparations for sinking.

Why are you doing this?

The artificial reef will:

  • boost the local economy, encouraging tourism and creating jobs
  • create marine habitat and increase marine life population,
  • relieve pressure from the surrounding natural reef,
  • provide an opportunity to scientifically document the effects of artificial reefs with an ongoing monitoring program,
  • provide a platform for education and research,
  • preserve the history and honor the memory of those who served and traveled on the ship

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