My Last visit to the Oriskany - April 24, 2006 - by CDR (now CAPT) Patrick Mulcahy              On deployment at Canberra, Australia  -  July 2009   (Finally a Captain!)

    (Here's what I look like now (2006).  I have some older pictures I will have to scan in.)                     


      From L-R, daughter Elisabeth, me, wife Vicki (married 35 years), missing son Jon.


Me and the boys! (I'm the old guy, last row on the left)

New:  Sinking Photos and Articles! 


I was going to Eglin AFB to attend a seminar on recent enemy threat weapons being used against U.S. aircraft.  I had read for some months on the web that the Oriskany would be sunk to her final resting place, 220 feet down, as an artificial reef.  So, I figured I'd go to Florida a day early and visit my first aircraft carrier, the Oriskany, CV/CVA-34.

Monday morning, I put on my uniform and drove up to NAS Pensacola where the Oriskany is berthed.  I wore it because I was pretty sure that no one would stop me from getting close to the ship while in uniform vs. wearing civilian clothes.  I was right!  There was a guard shack at the entrance to the pier.  When the Marine sentry saw the silver oak leaves, he saluted and waived me through.  No problem.  (Note:  As a LT, I took a fair amount of gaffe; as a LCDR, much less so;  Nobody screws with a full commander.)

I got out of the rental car with my cheap digital camera and proceeded to take some photos.  The old girl had seen better days.  Rusted, paint flaking, most of the mast radars gone, a shell of her former self.

As I moved around the pier, I saw that there were no military - only civilian workers getting the Mighty O ready for sinking.  As I lined up shots, an electrician working on a pier side junction box saw me and started talking.

"She's going to be sunk, you know?"

"Yeah, I heard.  Too bad."

"Were you ever aboard?"

I mentioned that I was a crewmember, part of the airwing, some years ago (some long years ago - 1972-1974 - thirty-two years since I had last been aboard.) We talked some more. 

"Hey," he said, "I'll bet you could go aboard."  My head turned and my eyes lit up

"You think so?" I asked.

"Sure.  You're in the Navy.  I'll bet you can just go on board."  Then he reached down into his truck bed.

"Here, here's my hard hat."

Before he could say "hat," I took it, removed my cover, and put it on.

An old chief I had many years ago told me some valuable advice I have always tried to honor:  "If you are going to be someplace that maybe you shouldn't be, or aren't sure if you should, don't sneak around, hiding from view and keeping quiet.  Instead, turn on all the lights, open all the doors, turn the music up full blast, and pretend like you're supposed to be there."

I walked up the afterbrow like I owned the place.  I was Capt. Barrow or Capt Anderson, walking onboard to see my ship.  No one said a word except "Hi."

I took my first step aboard the ship in all those years. Everything changed.   There I was, 20 years old again.  I was an Aviation Electronics Technician Airman (ATAN), assigned to VA-155, the Silver Foxes, flying the A-7B.  Ricky Hamilton (who was a funny guy and could make anybody laugh), also an ATAN, who I had met in A School at NAS Memphis and another Southern Californian (there are some of us who are normal), and I were reporting aboard our first ship for our first cruise, a long way from home.  I looked at the ship through those eyes, remembered the smells of Subic Bay, and walked on board. 

Things had changed.  The ship, mothballed in 1976, had no work done to it.  Rust was everywhere.  The civilian contractors had been readying the ship for sinking.  Hatches had been cut open or welded shut.  In various places on the hanger bay, 6x6 foot holes had been cut through the deckplates to allow for flooding.  I started to take pictures.

As I walked around, I began to realize I might be the last crewmember to go aboard before the sinking.  And, I felt very nostalgic.  I was seeing the same sights I had seen for two cruises, but with a few changes.  As I took more pictures, one of the civilian contractors came up to me.  He was the lead man for the workers and was afraid I was there because of an OSHA complaint made by one of the subcontractors on the job.  I assured him I had nothing to do with it, and he gave me a tour.

He explained that the ship was being readied from the mast to the sea chest (top to bottom) for the sinking.  All of the hazardous materials were being removed.  Asbestos from all the spaces and the overhead in the hanger bay (I didn't know I was working near that stuff - who did?) had to be stripped out.  All of the fuel tanks and fuel lines throughout the ship (519 of them) had to be purged and cleaned.  Everything from the top of the mast to the flight deck was being made diver safe so scuba divers could visit without being trapped.  All hatches and doors, windows and glass, and trap hazards like the catapult rails were being removed or sealed so a diver couldn't get caught while visiting.  So the mast, island, and flight deck were safe.  But below that, there were no precautions.  From what I could see, you could very easily get caught below decks.  No lights, passageways that form a maze, hatches blocking exits.  I remember many times ending up in some part of the ship and wondering "How did I get here, and how do I get back?," in a lighted compartment and plenty of air to breath. 

Did I want to see the flight deck?  Yes, please.  We walked up the old escalator to the island.  I told him modern carriers don't have escalators.  In fact, Oriskany was the only carrier I have been on that had one.

All the non-skid was gone.  The pad-eyes that were formerly at deck level were four inches above the deckplate.  (And to think I was blowing out one of those things when we crossed the equator in December of 1973 and become Loyal Shellback vs. a slimy pollywog.) 

I found out the ship is going to be sunk by the Army!  Army EOD experts are going to place charges at the induction pipes in the sea chest (this is where the ship draws in salt water for various uses like drinking water after distillation and flush water for the heads).  Water will fill the ship slowly, entering all the major compartments.  The ship will take five hours to sink, plus or minus fifteen minutes.  (I asked how they could be so accurate - "After a hundred ship sinkings, we have a model that predicts the rate of filling.  We are almost never wrong."  It will be monitored electronically as it floods.

We went back down to the hanger bay and it was time to go.  They were busy and I had friends to visit at Naval Aviation Schools Command where I had once taught.  But before I left, I had a request.  A couple of mementos.  The lead man had a couple of his workers remove some placards that were going to sink with the ship, and I took some of the rusted hanger bay deckplate back with me. 

So many fond memories.  Working alongside Rick trying to fix those airplane's avionics systems (never got the last gripe fixed it seemed), hosting a radio show on KRIS Saturdays and Sundays (folk rock music mostly), making friends with other electronic types like George Thomann (a huge man and one of the most powerful bowlers I have ever seen) and Jeff Webster from the OE division (ETs from ship's company, also radio show hosts), visiting the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, working on the flight deck (number three on the Discovery Channel's 10 most dangerous places), etc.

It's a sad time, but a good time as well.  The Oriskany will always be in one spot, viewable to those that can scuba dive.  At least you will never wonder if the next can of dog food you open is made from a part of the old ship.

If you have any comments, or just want to write and say hi, please contact me at .

All the best,

Pat (April, 2006)

Some pictures from my last visit, and some from my first visit (as soon as I can find a cheap slide scanner.)  Both of these sets of pictures have never been seen before.  In fact, I found the slides from the 1973 cruise recently after some 30 years of hiding somewhere in my garage.


Go down to see more photos:

My last photos of the Oriskany.

Oriskany Anchor.

This anchor was on the pier and looks like one of the ship's anchors. It was pretty big.

Oriskany Bow.

A view from the pier looking at the bow. Note the anchor chain.

Starboard Side.

A look from the bow aft to the island.

Oriskany Island.

Note the radar dishes have been removed. Pretty rusty.

Oriskany Hanger Bay.

Aft near the fantail looking forward.

Shop Spaces.

Some of the shops on and above the hanger bay.

Hanger Deck Flooding Hole.

A hatch (or maybe just a big hole) cut into the hanger deck to facilitate flooding. The deckplate is four inches thick of really hard steel.

Looking at the Fantail.

Starboard aft looking at the fantail. My old shop, the Work Center 210 VA-155 AT shop (second cruise, 1973-1974) was up the ladder to the left.


A view of the fantail.

Hanger bay.

More of the rusty hanger bay.

Contractor Tool Crib.

This use to be the ship's paint locker, now the contractors tool crib.

Hanger Bay 3 and 2.

The fire divisional doors (painted red and yellow) separating hangers bays 3 and 2 (looking aft to forward, 3 to 2).

Deck Edge Elevator.

Looking out of the port side elevator #3.

Starboard Fire Station.

The pillbox in the upper left was the firefighting control station used to control the sprinkler and AFFF firefighting system in the hanger bays.

Forward Elevator.

The forward (bow) elevator space. The elevator is raised to give divers a continuous platform on the flight deck. Modern carriers do not have this elevator in the center of the bow.

Forward Hatch.

This hatch, forward and left of the forward elevator, will be welded open to allow for proper flooding. Also a danger to divers - attractive nuisance.

Pensacola Bay.

A look at Pensacola Bay from one of the portside weather decks looking forward.

Pensacola Bay.

A look at Pensacola Bay from one of the portside weather decks looking aft.

AFFF Station 4.

Looking aft, this is where firefighting in hanger bay #1 was handled.

Contractor Equipment.

Workstands, hoses, cables, and workers everywhere.

More Rusted Bulkheads and Flaking Paint.

Flooding Cutout Hole.

Four inches thick, cut like butter. The leadman said it was no problem - they used a number 6 torch.

Hanger Deck Workspace.

A look in with the hatch removed.

AT Shop.

My old shop, the Work Center 210 VA-155 AT shop (first cruise, 1972-1973) was up here.

Blocked Passage.

The yellow circular block off plate is to keep divers from entering.

Pensacola Pier.

A look at Allegheny Pier, NAS Pensacola.

Hanger Bay Overhead.

All of the asbestos removed. The leadman said it took a long time to get it all out.

Starboard Side Weather Deck.

Escalator, Looking Up.

The only escalator I have ever seen on an aircraft carrier. It led from the hanger bay to the inside of the island at the flight deck level. It also went in both directions (up as well as down).

Flight Deck.

Or what's left of it. Looking aft to forward, you can see the catapult rails have inserts welded in to prevent a diver from being trapped.

Flight Deck.

Looking aft, the small boat is the instrumentation launch that will remotely monitor the sinking.

Oriskany Island.

Note all the hatches and windows have been removed for diver safety.



The forward part of the island where the Flag Bridge (Battle Group Commanders Bridge, below) and the Captain's Bridge (or Conning Bridge, above). All glass and hatches are removed, preventing a diver becoming trapped.

Flight Deck Entrance.

The forward (left) hatch is where you entered the flightdeck from the island. The aft hatch is where the Air Bos'n (crash, salvage, firefighting, launch, and recovery) lived.


Old and rusty.


A look at the flightdeck padeyes. Note all of the non-skid is removed, leaving four inches between the deckplate and the top of the padeye (normally flush).

Starboard Island.

Here is the Bomb Farm, where all the MK-82's and other ordnance was stored before being loaded. During the war, this area was packed.


A look at the pier through the open space where the elevator platform would be.

Construction Workers.

Workers removing a placard for a friend.

Divers Over the Side.

Divers between the pier and the ship prepare the Oriskany for sinking.

Deckplate Cutout.

Looking down from the hanger bay, these cutouts go all the way down to the sea chest to allow for proper filling of the ship during sinking.

Access Hatch.

This hatch is open to allow compressed air lines and electrical cables to go below decks. The hatch will be either welded shut or removed before sinking.

Misc Hanger Bay.

Ship Plans.

Used by the contractor to prepare ship for sinking.

More Plans.

Fourth Deck.

Schematic of the ship, 1959 vintage.

General Hanger Bay.


This is where the ship's classified material was burned.

Starboard Weatherdeck.

Control Panel.

This is the control panel that monitors the flooding of the ship. It has telemetry to a small boat to relay information during the sinking.

Diver Station.

This is the diver safety control station, where contractor diver's status is monitored.

Last Looks - Island.

Last Looks - Stern.

Last Looks - Forward.

Last Looks - From the Pensacola Bay Bridge.

Links (some do not return to this page).

Carrier Will Sink to Serve - Time's article on the Oriskany sinking

Gerry Benner's Oriskany Page

Larry Mathews Oriskany Page

USS Oriskany Museum and Reunion Site

The Eagles Nest  /USS-Oriskany-CVA-34/

VA-155 Page at

Gary Wright's VA-155 Homepage

Doc's Oriskany Page

USS Oriskany Online

Sinking Photos and Articles

The decommissioned aircraft carrier Oriskany is towed out to sea Monday for her scheduled sinking on May 17. Oriskany is schedule to be scuttled 22 miles south of Pensacola in approximately 212 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, where it will become the largest ship ever intentionally sunk as an artificial reef. Known as the "Big O," the 32,000-ton, 888-foot aircraft carrier was built at the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard and delivered to the Navy in 1950 and was in action during conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

The Oriskany, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, is sunk 24 miles off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., on May 17 to form an artificial reef. The 888-foot ship took about 37 minutes to sink below the surface. After 25 years of service to the Navy in operations in Korea, Vietnam and the Mediterranean, Oriskany will now benefit marine life, sport fishing and recreation diving off the coast of the Florida panhandle.

Explosives charges go off aboard the USS Oriskany, allowing it to begin to take on water.

The Oriskany's bow rises as the ship begins to descend.

Bubbles are all that remains of the USS Oriskany, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, that was sunk 24 miles off the coast of Pensacola to form an artificial reef. The ship had been expected to take hours to sink, but went down after only 35 minutes.

Sinking plan

AP Sinking Article

Orlando Sentinal Sinking Article

Pensacola New Journal Eyewitness Sinking Article

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