Sunday, May 08, 2005

This week in History - 8 May

In 1983 the United States Submarine, MantaRay, was lurking below the Arctic icecap. They were on a research mission to evaluate the changing freeze and thaw patterns of the polar ice floes.

Having been at sea and submerged since November doing nothing but taking scientific measurements the discipline among crew had become lax. In a momentary lapse, the galley crew left a burner on under a pot during a daily drill. The resulting fire quickly spread to the adjoining crew's quarters. In the crew's quarters, as certain materials heated up they began give off a noxious vapor which soon threatened to overcome the vessel.

Realizing that the exhaust system on board was not handling the problem the Captain ordered the ship to surface. Two teeth jarring attempts were made to ram their way through a thin spot in the overhead ice. The third attempt was a success but the hull of the MantaRay was slightly damaged in the process.

The crew was immediately evacuated and the ship exhausted of the noxious fumes. The crew had moved back into the vessel within 2 hours and hull repairs progressed without incident until they were completed three days later.

Once battened up and ready to submerge The Captian of the MantaRay discovered that the ice had frozen in around the vessel and she was stuck fast in place. For two more days the crew struggled in vain to free the ice bound ship. The Captain radioed for assistance but was told that the nearest ship capable of helping was two weeks away, and they should continue to attempt to extricate the boat the best they could until then.

The frustration of the situation led the Captain and the crew to try many different approaches to free the vessel. None worked. Finally the First Officer requested permission to try a more radical approach. With the Captain's approval the First Officer ordered two members of the crew to paint a large mouth and large sad eyes on the bow of the stuck sub.

He then radioed an anonymous tip to the Greenpeace Headquarters in Seattle that an Eskimo had spotted a rare Grey Whale stuck in the ice, and gave them sub's location.

Eighteen hours later in the most dramatic rescue effort ever launched by Greenpeace, 2374 volunteers equipped with axes, chain saws and other equipment arrived on snowmobiles, sleds and snowcats. In little over 5 hours these dedicated defenders of the defenseless, proceeded to chop free the stuck 'whale'. As their ailing charge slipped beneath the surface the volunteers gathered to wish it well. Yet they feared all their efforts had been in vain because throughout the rescue the creature lain so still and lifeless. But they hoped for the best and returned home praying for the animals quick recovery and survival.

Sensing that the Navy owed the organization a debt of gratitude, the Captain of the MantaRay arranged for a shipment of 200 sealskin winter sea coats to be delivered to Greenpeace for use during their North Atlantic operations.

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