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A Crewmember's recollection of the fire in 1988

The report below was contributed by QM2/SS Richard (Rick) Neault, U.S. Navy Ret. It is dedicated to the three men who gave their lifes aboard the USS Bonefish (SS 582).

At the time of the accident I was on watch in the control room. I was a Quartermaster and at the time was a third class (Qm3/ss). We were operating with the USS Carr (FFG 52) and the JFK (CV 67) doing war games. The Carr had asked us to go deep to commence an operation, we were at periscope depth (PD). We started to go down to 250ft and the boat took on a down angle. At that time, the maneuvering room called up and said they had lost the ground on the battery well. The officer of the deck (OOD) told them to wait until we reached depth and then send a man into the well to see what was wrong. After we had reached 250ft, a man was sent into the battery well to find the problem when he then called out fire in the berthing spaces. The battery well is located under the berthing spaces. From there it gets kinda foggy for me as I did not monitor the phone communications. About 15 minutes after the fire alarm was sounded, there was a loud bang and the boat began to shudder. Instantly the boat filled with smoke. VERY thick and heavy black smoke. It came rushing into the control room and filled the room in about a second. By then the CO had already ordered us to PD, but when the smoke filled the compartment, the CO ordered an emergency blow. We surfaced, unfortunately the OOD was not wearing an emergency air breathing device (EAB). He was unable to get the hatch open and unfortunately succumbed to smoke inhalation. His name was Lt. Ray Everts. A quick side note, all three of the men who died in the fire were fairly new onboard. I had just had a conversation with Lt. Everts about the Quartermaster division on the Bone. He said that we were the best Qm division he had worked with thus far in his Navy career. He was a good guy. After we had surfaced, we were eventually able to get the control room hatch open and start one of the diesels. We used it to suck the smoke out of the compartment. The men fighting the fire were trying to get to the flames. Unfortunately, the fire was in the insulation that was located behind the walls in the berthing compartment. We would have had to remove the bunks and then the walls in order to get to it. They sure tried though. After we had been surfaced for about 15 minutes there was another loud bang and once again the compartment filled with heavy smoke. This time it flamed out the engine and aparently it had melted through an air line. At that point the CO realized that the fire was now being fed by this air line and the only thing left to do was to abandon ship and lock down the hatches and hope it burned itself out. Unfortunately, Robert (Bob) Bordelon (RM1/ss) had some sort of medical emergency (heart attack??) in the radio room and was already unconscious. YN3 Todd Lindgren was at the midships hatch waiting for his turn to go topside when he snapped (freaked out) and disappeared into the smoke. The Doc tried to locate him but was unable to due to the smoke. He was 20 years old, old enough to die for his country, but too young to buy a beer. RM1 Bordelon was less than a year from retirement. The official cause of the fire was an electrical short across the battery bus ties that eventually caught the insulation on fire. The Garbage Disposal Unit (GDU) in the crews mess had a leaky valve. That valve had apparently been leaking for some time and the salt water ate through the decking into the battery well. When we made our angle to go down to 250ft, the water that had pooled poured into the well and caused arching and sparking and from there it is now history. Had there been an explosion due to the buildup of hydrogen gas (as some sub experts claimed), you wouldn't be reading this because I would be dead. Several of the crew of the Bone have been subsequently retired from the Navy for various reasons, including myself. Mainly because of the rumor and speculation surrounding the accident. Unfortunately, those of us who wanted the subs to be our career have had a hard time readjusting to civilian life. It isn't that we were blamed by the Navy, its just that crews on board other boats felt that we didn't do enough to save our shipmates, even though they were not there to actually be aware of what happened.

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