US Navy missile tracker wreck

Sunken Navy missile tracker

The ship on every thrill-seeking diver’s radar! A former US Navy missile tracking ship which was sunk off the coast of Florida has found new purpose as a huge artificial reef.

Once the pride of the US Navy, the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a veteran of World War Two, now lies at a depth of 42 metres at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

The 17,250 ton ship was deliberately sunk in May 2009 and is now the second largest artificial reef in the world.

Underwater photographer Brandon Hatcher, 36, explored the unique site. The adventure happened to be Mr Hatcher’s 100th dive.

He said: “It was a very calm day so I could see the top of the ship from the surface of the water.”

The giant rusting vessel, equipped with seven-metre-wide radar dishes, is now considered one of the world’s most popular hotspots for thrill-seeking divers.

Once crewed by 356 men, the 160-metre-long wreck lies rusting off the coast of Key West, Florida, USA, a home for barracudas and the occasional great white shark.

Mr Hatcher, from Atlanta, Georgia, said: “The most impressive thing about the ship was its size. When you are at one end of the ship you cannot see all the way to the other.

“The huge radar dishes are a real sight to see. I swam underneath one and stuck my head through the middle.”

The USNS Vandenberg was launched in October 1943 and christened the USS General Harry Taylor.

During the Second World War the ship was used as a transport ship in the Pacific theatre, ferrying US troops and supplies to New Guinea, the Solomons, New Caledonia, the Marianas, the New Hebrides, the Palaus, and the Philippines.

After the war the ship was tasked with ferrying refugees and troops in and out of Europe.

In July 1964, after a brief stint in the US Air Force, the vessel was transferred to the US Navy and renamed the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.

The ship was fitted as a missile and spacecraft tracking ship and she was decked out with complex antennas and electronics.

The ship continued tracking duties in Atlantic and Pacific waters until her retirement in 1983.

The ship was eventually sunk six miles off the coast of Key West in May 2009 to act as an artificial reef and diving attraction.

The project was developed by a company called Reefmakers who set out to create an artificial reef which would benefit the economy and ecology of the local community.

Key West was chosen because the natural reefs in the area had been largely destroyed due to overfishing.

Mr Hatcher said: “Every surface is covered in coral and the ship attracts lots of big fish like barracudas and sharks.

“But because it was only sunk five years ago you can still make out the ships details which makes it a fantastic dive.”

Before the USNS Vandenberg was sunk it was used as a filming location for the 1998 horror film Virus starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland.

The ship stood in as a Russian ship called the Akademik Vladislav Volkov. The cyrillic lettering placed on the ship by set-decorators is still visible on the sunken ships hull today.

More high resolution pictures are available on request. To discuss rates for using pictures and copy, contact news editor Tom Knight on 07815 004413 or tom@medavia.co.uk.

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