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CAPT.Murray, USN - briefing on salvage and diving operations

Presenter: CAPT Christopher Murray
November 02, 1999 12:00 PM EDT

CAPT. MURRAY: Good afternoon. I'm losing my voice here -- don't know how well this is going to work out. I'm here just to give some background on the Navy divers and what's going on up at the site. I really do -- I'm not up to speed on what's going on right now. I'll have to defer any questions to the NTSB or the on-sea commander with the actual operation, what's going on now.

I can tell you about divers, Navy divers. I can tell you about the vessels that are up there and their capabilities. I'd really just like to open it up for questions, probably be the best way to handle this.

QWhat ships are on the scene?

CAPT. MURRAY: On scene right now is the USNS Mohawk, is on scene as we speak, and on board she has -- she's equipped with a mini-rover MR-2, which is -- it's a remotely operated vehicle. Capability is really just to go down and photograph. She also has a passive pinger locator that's towed behind the vessel and this would locate any pingers. And she also has a shallow water intermediate search system, which is called SWIS. It's a side-scan sonar.

So she is the vessel you'd want out there first, which she is. She's out there; she will locate the pinger. With that, then, they can use side-scan sonar or if they can't find the pinger they'll use side-scan sonar to give them a more likely area where they can look. If they do find a target that looks like what they might be looking for, they'll send down the mini-rover with an eyes -- you know, with a camera, and verify what they're looking at or what they've picked up.

QCaptain -- oh, sorry. Go ahead.

CAPT. MURRAY: I also understand that the NOAA vessel Whiting is on site also, and she has a side-scan sonar capability.

QI noticed that the paper handed out on the Grapple yesterday said that she could handle static diving, I think it put it, to 190 feet. Well, if this is 250 feet deep, how are you going to get divers beyond 190?

CAPT. MURRAY: Yes, sir. The Grapple right now is in port at Newport. She's onloading, besides her divers, the drone which she's going to be using that has a capability -- deep drone. It's an ROV. And she has the capability to go down and photograph. She's got arms that can manipulate and actually pick things up. She does have that capability. So that's one aspect she has.

As far as the diving, yes, her inherent capability is 190 feet on air. On board also she has a fly-way mixed gas system. This capability gives them a diving capability of manned divers to 300 feet, depending on the depth. This is still unknown. I've heard several different depths. But that max capability is 300 feet.

Up to 260 feet, the max time for manned diver is 40 feet -- or, excuse me, 40 minutes on the bottom; 270 and up to 300, max time would be 30 minutes. Now, that is the time you leave the surface, get to the bottom, get out to the site, get back on your stage -- they'll be going down in an open stage -- and ready to leave the bottom. So, 30 or 40 minutes. So that does not give you a whole lot of work time.

QAnd that includes an enhanced gas mix as opposed to normal air?

CAPT. MURRAY: It's helium-oxygen, which would be -- it really depends on the depth. You vary your mix. In this case, just for instance, it could be approximately 13 percent oxygen, with the remainder helium. You don't have a problem with nitrogen narcosis, so you've ruled that out. But one of the other inherent problems with helium or one of the things that's not beneficial is it tends to dissipate heat from the body, so there's a concern with keeping the divers warm. So they will be diving with hot-water suits. We actually have, like, a wet suit with water that's pumped down from the surface and keeping the diver warm.

QHow many divers do you have in the water at any particular time?

CAPT. MURRAY: If they go to the mixed gas, they'll be diving with two divers in the water at a time, two divers in the water and one on stand-by.

QCan you talk about how much riskier or more hazardous this type of diving is from the past --

CAPT. MURRAY: Yes. Well, for instance, TWA was air dives. Therefore, you had a lot more -- you could use scuba divers; you could use surface-supplied, which in this case is what we are going to use, surface-supplied helium-oxygen. So you had a lot more tools. And there's a lot more divers you could put down to cover a large area. You have limited that because of the deeper depths.

Now, as far as additional hazards, helium-oxygen, you go down, and just a typical -- and I'll just use 240 feet -- 240 feet, the max time on the bottom is 40 minutes. You'll spend an hour coming up, graduated at different levels, decompressing. And so that's an hour from the time you leave the bottom until you get to the surface.

When you get to the surface -- and they'll be using -- if in fact they do employ divers -- surface decompression -- so they will -- an hour to the surface. Then they'll get out, and they have five minutes from the time they leave their last stop, which is 40 minutes; get up to the surface, get on, get undressed, and get into a recompression chamber onboard the vessel.

They'll get on that, and they will be in the recompression chamber for about two hours and 15 minutes, which that is 30 minutes' oxygen, a five-minute air break, and they'll repeat that. So they do four periods of O-2. That's just -- so typically four hours from start to finish.

Now, you can double that obviously. And they have a second chamber onboard. They have got a second -- what is a fly-away chamber, TRCS, transportable recompression chamber onboard. So in actuality, rather than four hours from start to finish, what they would probably do is a diver would go down or a set of divers go down; they'd come up, they'd get in the chamber, get the next two divers ready to go. So they can double up that and have turnaround in about two hours.

Yes, sir?

QWill only the Grapple be supporting divers, or will the Mohawk also do that?

CAPT. MURRAY: As of right now, it would just be the USS Grapple.

The Mohawk right now is not outfitted to dive. She could be. We do have fly-away systems. We have -- in the Navy inventory, we have three of the fly-away mixed-gas systems. Just one area right now, and then we'll see how this can develop.

And you know, looking at this, what we do -- every salvage job is different. But with this, you want to limit the divers. You want them to go down and know exactly where they are going and what they are going to do. So there will be extensive use of ROVs, I mean as much as you can, and use the divers where you'd really need to get in and get something and you know where you are going, and they can get in and do it safely, and get back and get to the stage.

QSo once the Grapple gets out there on station, which I understand won't be for a while, do you expect the use of ROVs for several days before any divers go down?

CAPT. MURRAY: Well, first we need to positively locate the wreckage, which will be a combination with the use of the Mohawk and also with the Whiting, and any other -- as the on-scene commander -- seems fit, if they need additional vessels. They will use that, using passive for the pinger locator, hopefully, you know, they'll be able to use that to zero-in. Then they'll use the side-scan sonar to positively locate so you can put the vessel right over it.

With the divers -- before you can put a diver in the water you need a positive location, and then the diver has to be in a secure moor; in this case probably a 4.0 moor with the sea state -- this is another thing -- this time of year -- that's different from TWA. TWA, the manned diving was ending about now. Right now the weather is starting to get -- in fact, as I speak, it's starting to get bad. But this time of year, historically it's, you know, kind of dicey on doing diving operations to begin with.

So with that, they locate it and then use RVs to go down, possibly find something. You know diver -- red, green diver, you're going down and you're going to go pick up this; it should be 20 feet off the stage as you get down. mean, they need to be that specific and have it narrowed down that much.

Yes, sir?

QWhat will be the first priority? Will that be recovery of bodies or recovery of those black boxes or, you know, how do you prioritize?

CAPT. MURRAY: Depending on NTSB, and understand with the pinger locators, the black boxes are what's going to be recovered. And then from there, the priorities -- I'd have to -- you know, we're working for the NTSB and the on - scene commander. I'd have to defer (sic) you to them on what happens from here.

QExcuse me, you said it was an hour from sea bed to surface.

CAPT. MURRAY: Yes, sir.

QGraduated cliff.

CAPT. MURRAY: Yes, sir.

QHow about descent, how long?

CAPT. MURRAY: Descent, 75 feet per minute is the fastest you go down, and that depends on how fast you can clear as you go down, which some days is good, some days you've got to stop and divers have to clear their ears.

Yes, ma'am?

QWith the kind of weather conditions and water conditions you anticipate, how quickly does a wreckage field begin to drift, and the stuff that may be either on the surface, half-way down, even on the bottom; how quickly does that field begin to dissipate?

CAPT. MURRAY: Every job is different, every location is different. It depends on the makeup of the bottom, the weight of the equipment, the buoyancy, you know, of what you have down there, the size of it. You know is it a sand, a mud bottom, is there very much current through there? So I really can't say.

QDoes NTSB want you to bring up everything or is there some discrimination that's a piece we don't need to bring up, leave it?

CAPT. MURRAY: Sir, I haven't been briefed on that, so I do not know the extent at this time.

QHave you been involved in previous operations similar to this personally?

CAPT. MURRAY: Yes. I've been in -- well, several military aircraft obviously. Then, as far as a larger operation like the Haitian ferry that went down two years ago in the fall of '97, recovered the victims from there, 250 victims went down. Also a Titan missile off Cape Canaveral, recovered that last fall. And then the Swiss Air, I supported with my divers. I was on scene at Cape Canaveral, but I sent my divers with the mixed-gas -- similar situation, a lot of the same divers -- up to Swiss Air.


QCould we get the spelling of your name, and title?


QThe first name?

CAPT. MURRAY: Christopher.

QAnd how many years have you had as a diver?

CAPT. MURRAY: Twenty years as a military diver and -- I don't know -- 30-some as a civilian.

QAnd your title, please?

CAPT. MURRAY: Supervisor of Diving for the U.S. Navy.

QWhere is that (office, sir ?) ?

CAPT. MURRAY: NAVSEA, Naval Sea Systems Command, Alexandria -- or Arlington, I guess, is the actual address.

QGiven the size of this aircraft and the length of the descent, if you were to have to recover it all, can you give us an idea of what it would take? I mean, falling from that far, it would break up, I'm sure, into lots of pieces. How long would it take to bring up every piece of that aircraft?

CAPT. MURRAY: I really can't speculate on the length of time. I'd just tell you that it'd be a(n) extraordinary effort with the depth, with the -- just looking at the sea conditions, what I know.

You know, drawing on the TWA, dove on that for a couple months. And that started in July. You know, July through November, better weather, a lot -- you know, shallow water and your assets were just -- unlimited number of assets you could get in on that. I mean, by -- because you can employ scuba divers, you could use police. We're strictly two divers down, U.S. Navy, we could bring in additional assistance if we get to that. So it's going to be an extraordinary effort, and we'll see where it goes. But I really can't speculate on how long it would take and to what degree they'd be successful.

Yes, sir.

QMight you have to, as the winter comes on, suspend operations and resume sometime? Or would you think you could operate all through the winter?

CAPT. MURRAY: I could see where some storms will come up they're going to have to move out, most likely.

When the -- to put a diver down, you know, I had said you have to get into a secure moor, which -- a four-point moor so you have four anchors out. That in itself, you know, it takes a while and it's -- you just don't pick up and move around and, you know, drop. And that itself, depending on, you know, how you do that, that could be a half-day just to move, or even longer just to move around. When sea states -- and you have a pretty good, you know, weather front comes through there, a northeaster, they're not going to be able to stay in a moor. They would have to get away. Even though they couldn't dive, they would still have to get up and recover their anchor just to ride out the seas at sea.

QDoes weather affect objects, wreckage, at that depth?

CAPT. MURRAY: It really depends on the location. I wouldn't think that in that location, that far off, it would really bother that much. It's going to affect the turbidity and your visible light from the surface. But I don't think it would probably affect the bottom at 240 or --

QYou mean -- (inaudible).

CAPT. MURRAY: Current-wise, yeah. You're not going to get it like you would shallow, where you get movement from the sea waves.

QSo it should pretty much stay put. I mean, if you left it alone, it could stay put for years, right?

CAPT. MURRAY: Well, it really depends on the bottom currents. I mean, there are bottom currents that are not affected by the surface. And the buoyancy of the aircraft. So, yeah, the heavy objects, they're going to probably stay there.

Yes, sir?

QPardon my ignorance, but what does fly-away mean?

CAPT. MURRAY: Oh, excuse me. Fly-away is anytime we can take something and put it in an aircraft. We're trying to be highly portable, getting away from a platform. The Grapple has a chamber on board that is affixed to the ship. We also have portable chambers that we can load back in a C-130 or C-141. So when you say fly-away, it's something that's capable of going in a C-130, C-141. So the fly-away mixed gas system consists of a console where all your gas would come into and they can manipulate the pressure in the volume tank. Several banks of gas, oxygen, depending on -- you'll go down with different mixes. Then your umbilicals coming out and going to the divers.

QSir, the timing of this, did that kind of catch the Navy short, in the sense that the Grasp and the Grapple were, as I understand it, have been undergoing some maintenance or refitting or whatever, and don't seem to have been really completely ready to go, and so the Mohawk seems to have --

CAPT. MURRAY: I think the Grapple was about ready. I think the Grasp was going to availability. They try to rotate that just for something like this. Yeah, it's just the amount of time to get the equipment; and part of it, you have to wait for the official tasking. You just can't get underway immediately. We start making preps within -- you know, there's delay a lot of times for your tasking, and then -- but I think she was ready as soon as they were wanting her to sail.

QSome of the equipment wasn't on board that they have to pick up in Newport.

CAPT. MURRAY: Yes. The deep drone that they picked up was one piece of equipment, and that's something that -- it's kept in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. It's a government-owned, contract-operated piece of equipment. And that is available to go to a commercial airport to be flown somewhere. It was just employed this summer over in France aboard a USNS ship in what we call a "craft of opportunity"; you can fly it -- you pick any -- it doesn't have to be a military vessel. So yeah, it's not located or is not on board the vessel.

So any of these -- no two jobs are the same. You have a bunch of different toys or equipment to use, and then you have to, you know, assemble that, so that usually takes some time; 12, 24 hours, depending on the equipment, and where it has to come from.

QSo the drone actually was flown up to Newport from Maryland? Is that right?

CAPT. MURRAY: I think in this case it was trucked up. For example, it could be flown, it could be, you know trucked.

Yes, sir?

QWhat are some of the major dive technology improvements and physiology improvements over the last five or six years that allow you to have a bottom time of 40 minutes, I think.

CAPT. MURRAY: Forty minutes. Well, (before this case ?) the Navy actually got out of the mixed-gas diving system a few years -- about six, seven years ago. And the -- (inaudible) -- mixed-gas system is relatively new, this portable mixed-gas system. We did have mixed-gas systems that were built in two vessels. We decommissioned those vessels, and with that -- it was a lot of money to maintain these systems. Well, with the new technology, we're able to build systems with light-weight composite bottles is probably the biggest, you know, reducing the weight.

There's nothing real new with the times as far as, you know, pills you can take or anything else to extend your bottom time. It's really the portability of equipment that's changed more than anything else, then the ease and the maintenance more than anything else the last few years, at least for the military divers.

Now, the civilian divers, they've gone into where civilian divers get into mixed gas or tri-mixes. It doesn't have the redundancy and the safety that we deploy with the U.S. Navy diver.

QAre there any SEAL capabilities that these guys are using in terms of reduced vision -- scopes or inter-communication capabilities where I can talk to you if you're 50 feet away under water?

CAPT. MURRAY: Each one of these divers is what we call surface-supplied; their gas is being pumped down to -- you know, by pressure, it's a pressurized system. They also have communications that they can talk to the surface, they can talk to one another. They can take hand-held cameras, and they can feed it back to the ship. You could be right there watching what's going on, while they are actually diving, that capability.

They have got underwater hand-held sonars that they can use to get a return from a metallic object. Pinger locaters. Go down, and you can listen for the actual pinger when they go down or they -- or to know if they are within, you know -- or suspect they're within a distance where a diver can reach it. Then they'll go down to make sure they positively can identify.

Because once you go down, it's unknown what the visibility is going to be. You get down; you lose orientation. You are going down the stage. So, you know, you have got a compass, or you can just use -- they'll use whatever mechanism you can to locate and go right to the object.

QWere there any lessons learned from the JFK salvage that are being applied now, in terms of more efficient searching of a grid or of an area?

CAPT. MURRAY: Probably the biggest lessons learned were from TWA and the size of that area and debris field. And that's where my office comes into play as the -- my boss, the supervisor of Diving and Salvage Captain Marsh (sp), who is on scene, is coordinating that effort as far as locating and doing all the side-scanning sonar and coordinating actually the finding of it or assisting the on-scene commander. And he is the one that's coordinating the contracted-owned -- contract-operated vehicles.

QHow come the Grapple doesn't have a side-scan sonar or isn't carrying one?

CAPT. MURRAY: Really, probably efficiency. I mean, she could; you could put one on her. But it's more efficient to get some other vessel. And -- depending on the size of the side-scanning sonar, it can go on -- numerous vessels.

QIn other words, the two that you are using are adequate --

CAPT. MURRAY: Oh, yeah. Yes, sir. And if they need more, they'll just get other vessels. You don't want to tie up your primary asset that has deep drones, and your divers. And really it's just efficiency and a better way of doing business.

Yes, sir?

QWas the Grapple used in the TWA crash recovery?

CAPT. MURRAY: Yes, Grapple and Grasp were both at one time or another. Yes, sir.

QIs 240 feet about the max you can go safely at any time? The monitors that are like 243 --

QIs that - (inaudible)

QDid you say 300?

CAPT. MURRAY: Well, we can dive to 300. Three hundred max is 300 for 30 minutes.

QI know you don't want to talk time line, but can you say whether you are talking about days, weeks or months in terms of finding it and recovering it?

CAPT. MURRAY: No, sir. I can't --

QYou can't talk about days --

CAPT. MURRAY: -- well, no, I really can't comment. I mean --


CAPT. MURRAY: Yes, sir.

QThanks very much.