VANDENBERG SUCCESSFULLY SINKS WEDNESDAY MORNING
KEY WEST, Fla. At approximately 10:22 a.m., demolition experts pushed a button that ignited cutting charges strategically positioned in bilge areas below the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg's waterline.
The ship sank at approximately 10:24 a.m. Wednesday, successfully concluding a 13-year-project to convert the decommissioned military missile-tracking ship into a new artificial reef off Key West.
She sank to a water depth of 140 feet about seven miles south of Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The 523-foot Vandenberg is so large that her upper superstructure lies only 40 feet below the surface of the ocean.
The ship is the second largest vessel in the world ever purposely sunk to become an artificial reef. Her sinking also completes the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trek a series of intentionally foundered vessels that begins off Key Largo with the Spiegel Grove and ends with the Vandenberg.
Seventy percent of the $8.6 million project's funding resources and some 75,000 man-hours were required to rid the vessel of contaminants, with the work executed in two Norfolk, Va., shipyards.
The Vandenberg first saw duty as a U.S. Army troop transport named the General Harry Taylor. She became the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg in 1963 and tracked the U.S. space program's launches off Cape Canaveral. The Vandenberg also served in the Pacific monitoring U.S. defense missile test launches and eavesdropping on Russian missile launches during the Cold War. Port Canaveral, Fla., was the Vandenberg's last active duty home port beginning in 1976.
She was formally retired in 1983 and was transferred to the James River Naval Reserve Fleet. But, according to Patrick J. Utecht, who managed the ship's electronic systems, a team of six technicians would visit Vandenberg every six months to power up all shipboard electronics and make any necessary repairs. Despite the state of readiness, the ship was never used again and in 1993, was formally struck from the naval register and transferred to the Maritime Administration.
The ship received its most public exposure when cast as a Russian science ship in "Virus," a 1999 motion picture starring Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland.
The Vandenberg sinking project was funded by Monroe County, the Florida Governor's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development; City of Key West, U.S. Maritime Administration, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Keys & Key West tourism council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as industry and private donations. Banks that provided loans include First State Bank of the Florida Keys, BB&T and Orion.