The Texas Tower Wreck
New York and New Jersey's (Wreck Valley)
Historical and current New York and New Jersey Shipwreck Information and
images for scuba divers and fisherman.
Texas Tower No.4 was a triangular shaped Air Force Radar Tower, or
D.E.W. (Distant Early Warning Station) built in Portland, Maine,
back in 1957. The air force had three such stations -named for
their resemblance to oil drilling rigs. Tower #4 was a three deck
platform that weighed 500 tons and stood 67 feet above sea level.
That is until a severe winter storm toppled the structure taking it
and twenty eight men to their watery deaths.
The fate of Tower #4was actually sealed while still under
construction. In June of 1957 while being transported in pieces to
be assembled on site. A storm hit the tugs while they were at sea.
After the storm, engineers learned that two huge braces had torn off
the huge tripod. The engineers at the scene had a conference and
decided rather then tow the tower back to shore for full repair they
would erect the tower as is and then have divers repair the damage.
Divers were dispatched and did install a collar brace, but Tower #4
right from the start was not nearly as structurally sound as she was
designed to be. On August 29, 1958, Daisy, the first of two
damaged the radar station. Hurricane Donna hit
in September of 1960, This powerful storm with 130 mile an hour
winds and 50 foot waves, inflicted even more damage to the Towers
already weakened underwater legs. By this time, the crew had
nicknamed the tower, Old Shaky. The Tower was so unstable that
visitors were warned not to shave with a straight razor lest a
sudden lurch cause them to cut their throats. In November, 1960, all
but 14 crew and 14 repairmen were evacuated for safety reasons. By
early January, conditions on board had worsened, but the Air Force
would not evacuate for fear that nearby Russian trawlers would
capture the abandoned tower and the electronics within her. As
Commander Sheppard latter wrote "you don't just walk off and leave
millions of dollars of radar equipment lying around untended." By
the second week of January with 50 knot winds and 30 foot seas
enveloping the tower, the crew on Old Shaky feared for their lives.
Even after divers discovered a broken brace on January 7, evacuation
orders were still not received. It seems that no one in the Navy's
chain of command wanted to take the responsibility for evacuating
such an expensive site. On January 14 weather forecasts called for
40 to 60 knot winds. At 10:30 Am personal aboard the Tower reported
a very loud noise. The structure then began to move with a new,
sickening motion. Obviously another underwater brace had broken
away. Not until nearly 4:00 PM was it finally decided to evacuate
the remaining men aboard the tower, but by this time the Air Force
commanders had waited to long. Air Force and Coast Guard Helicopters
were alerted to take off at the first lull in the storm. At 6:45 PM
the aircraft carrier, Wasp, reports it's racing towards the tower.
The tower radioed "we are breaking up". At 7:20 PM Captain Mangual
in a rescue craft, only a few miles from the site, has his eyes
fastened on the towers radar image "suddenly the image blurs and is
gone "Mangual frantically tried to radio Tower No.4 but There was no
reply. It was too late. At 7:33 PM, Sunday, January 15, 1961, Texas
Tower #4 slid into the ocean, taking all 28 men to their deaths.
After the tragedy, only one body was recovered. Hopes were raised
when the Navy picked up knocking sounds on its sonar. The opinion
was that some men could possibly still be alive, trapped in an air
space. Unfortunately, none of these men were ever found. Colonel
Banks top regional commanding officer in charge of Texas Towers was
charges with dereliction of duty in a court martial, for not keeping
a closer watch on Tower #4. A Senate subcommittee investigating the
disaster concluded that" an unbroken chain of error and mistakes in
judgment had ended in stark tragedy".
Today the Tower rests in 180 feet of water 58 miles out off Fire
Island Inlet. Although this huge structure really doesn't classify
as a ship wreck, her broken bones which rise to within 130 feet of
the surface host an incredible amount and variety of marine life.
The upper most portion of the tower is one of the corners of her
huge deck tripod. Visibility is usually excellent and at times can
be spectacular. Even though the Towers structure rises to a
relatively shallow depth this is definitely an advanced dive for
experienced wreck divers only. The Towers triangular deck now rests
on a steep downward angle. Her radar domes are now lying close to
the bottom with their outer shell deteriorating away. Divers can
penetrate fairly easily into many of the towers interior rooms.
Tower #4 once housed over 75 crew with sleeping quarters, hobby
shops, a galley, infirmary as well as control and generator rooms.
Divers who frequent the Towers remains report seeing everything from
sharks, dolphins, turtles, pilot whales, and giant ocean sunfish.
Divers should be aware that a powerful current is usually present,
but for those who brave the sometimes harsh offshore environment of
the north Atlantic a unique and exciting dive experience will
certainly be found.
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