NAVAL AIR STATION PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- After 56 years of existence, the former USS Oriskany (CV 34) has finally been laid to rest as the 888-foot long, 32,000-ton ship sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in water approximately 212 feet deep and about 24 miles south of the coast of Pensacola, Fla., May 17.
The largest ship ever intentionally sunk as an artificial reef, ex-Oriskany started toward the reefing site May 15, towed by several tugboats at a maximum speed of two knots.
"I had the honor of patting her on the rear end to get her started, and now, I have the honor of watching her start a new life," said former Gunner's Mate Seaman and Oriskany plank owner Mike Hajek. Originally from Cape May, N.J., Hajek served from 1949 to 1954 aboard the warship and is now the chairman of the Oriskany Reunion Association.
"As a ship of many firsts, she will be immortalized as the largest manmade reef," Hakek said. "God, she's beautiful."
The first charges were detonated at 10:25 a.m., and the ship took 37 minutes to reach the ocean floor. Twenty-four hours after the ship sank, U.S. Navy divers will check the location and condition of the ship. For personal safety, it was advised that recreational diving wait 48 hours before visiting the ship.
For those interested in diving, the sunken ship's coordinates are 30 degrees 20 minutes north latitude and 87 degrees 0 minutes west longitude, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials.
"The Navy and Florida team performed flawlessly to execute [the] sinking. The Navy is thrilled that ex-Oriskany will continue to serve the United States as a tourist and diving attraction off the coast of Florida," said Glen Clark, deputy program manager of the Navy's Inactive Ships Program Office. "This is a fitting new beginning for this illustrious ship, and we are proud of the information she has provided us for the reefing of future Navy ships as artificial reefs."
Ownership of the vessel transferred to the state of Florida as the ship landed on the ocean floor. A 2004 Florida State University study estimated Escambia County would see $92 million a year in economic benefits from an artificial reef.
"She fought valiantly not to become scrap," Hajek said. "She was built to serve and protect. She did that with dignity. She'll create new life. Could you ask for anything better than that?"
The Navy will offer additional ships as artificial reefs later this year.
For related news, visit the Naval Air Station Pensacola Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/naspensacola/.