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Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg Wreck — Key West, Florida

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About the Vandenberg

The Vandenberg arriving in Key West
Photo by Andy Newman, TDC

Ship Details

Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a former military troop transport and former missile-tracking ship. Gross Tonnage (Volume): 17,120 tons. Length: 522 feet 10 inches • Beam: 71.5 feet • Draft: 24 feet. Height after sinking: 100 feet from keel to the highest point. Stacks, masts and antennas have been trimmed to allow 40 feet of clearance from the surface when the ship is sunk at 140 feet. Much of the superstructure should be 40 to 50 feet below the surface. Click here to view schematic drawings of the ship.

Location

Vandenberg location chart

At 24º27'N, 81º44'W. Approximately seven miles south of Key West International Airport in 140 feet of water in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The site was chosen 10 years ago, with input from interested parties. Permitting was required from 18 different agencies. More than 130 dives were conducted to survey the site. It is hard barren bottom with no coral and no submerged cultural resources (historic wrecks).

Purpose

To relieve recreational dive and fishing pressure from surrounding natural coral reefs; create marine habitat and increase marine life population; boost the economy; provide a platform for education and research, and preserve the history and heritage of the vessel.

The Vandenberg dockside

Sink Date

The Hoyt S. Vandenberg Sank at 10:24 am, May 27, 2009 and is now an artificial reef, in Key West, Florida.

Sink Plan

Before arriving in Key West April 22, 2009, the ship had undergone months of cleanup and inspections to remove contaminants that were deemed potential hazards to the marine environment. Pollutants removed included 81 bags of asbestos, 193 tons of materials that contained potentially carcinogenic substances, 46 tons of floatable refuse, 300 pounds of mercury-containing materials and 184 55-gallon drums of paint chips.

Explosive cutting charges are to open holes in the lower deck. Water pressure will push the cutout plates inward, water will flow in at the bottom and air will vent out the top. The ship has tons of ballast near the keel, placed to create a stable platform for the big tracking antennas. Marine engineers predict the ship will sink in less then three minutes.

Project Costs

Approximately $8.6 million with funding coming from the Monroe County, Fla.; the Florida Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development; City of Key West; U.S. Maritime Administration; the Florida Legislature; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Florida Keys & Key West tourism council, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as industry and private donations. Banks providing loans include First State Bank of the Florida Keys, BB&T and Orion.

The Vandenberg arriving in Key West
Photo by Rob O’Neal

Historical Highlights

  • May 8, 1944: Vessel commissioned U.S. Army Transport Gen. Harry Taylor.
  • June 13, 1946: Taylor decommissioned.
  • March 1, 1950: Taylor reacquired by the Navy for use by Military Sea Transportation Service.
  • July 15, 1961: Taylor transferred to the U.S. Air Force and named Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg.
  • 1962-1983: Vandenberg employed tracking missiles and spacecraft launches in the Atlantic and Pacific. Tasked as Advanced Range Instrumentation Ship (ARIS) USNS Vandenberg was designated ARIS 2; sister ship USNS Arnold was ARIS 1.
  • Jan. 1976: Ship relocates to Port Canaveral, Fla., where it remains until 1983.
  • 1983: Vandenberg retired and moved to James River, Fort Eustis, Va., for storage.
  • April 1993: Vandenberg title transferred to the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD).
  • Sept. 1996: Vandenberg leased to Universal Studios for the filming of the movie "Virus."
  • June 1996: From a list of about 400 ex-military ships at the time, Key Wester Joe Weatherby identifies Vandenberg as top candidate for an artificial reef off Key West.
  • Aug. 9, 1999: Weatherby organizes Artificial Reefs of the Keys with the objective of acquiring the Vandenberg.
  • Jan. 2007: Vandenberg’s titled transferred to the State of Florida for reefing.
  • March 31, 2007: Vandenberg withdrawn from the James River Naval Reserve Fleet and towed to Colonna’s Shipyard in Norfolk, Va., for cleanup and preparation.
  • April 22, 2009: Vandenberg arrives at Key West for final preparations to be sunk as an artificial reef about six miles south of the island.
  • May 27th, 2009: The Hoyt S. Vandenberg Sank @ 10:24 Am, and is now an artificial reef, in Key West, Florida.

Sink the Vandenberg

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