June 22, 2017

1968. Navy Searches for the Missing USS Scorpion Nuclear Submarine

Mystery Signal Heard Off the Coast of Norfolk
"Scorpion (SSN-589) comes alongside Tallahatchie County (AVB-2) outside Claywall Harbor, Naples, Italy, 10 April 1968. The submarine's Commanding Officer, Commander Francis A. Slattery, is atop her sail, holding a megaphone" (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Norfolk

May 30, 1968

It could be the most hopeful sign of life yet for the missing nuclear submarine Scorpion—or it could be one of the most heartless and cruel hoaxes in US Navy history.

But at 8:28 yesterday evening, a Navy patrol plane and six ships hunting for the missing submarine Scorpion spotted some strange debris on the Atlantic some 110 miles east of Norfolk. The plane dropped sonar buoys and heard a rhythmic clanking. It dropped small explosive charges, and shortly thereafter there came the unidentified voice of a man who broadcast these words, quote: "Any station this network . . . this is—" and then followed the classified Navy code word identifying the missing submarine.

At that time of the unexplained broadcast, the Scorpion had been overdue at her home port of Norfolk for 68 and a half hours—almost three days. And it had been nine days since there had been any radio signal from her.

The missing sub had checked in with Atlantic Fleet headquarters a week ago on Tuesday, May 21, as she started a submerged transatlantic journey from a point just south of the Azores. There has been no other word or sign of the Scorpion and her 99-man crew since.

That, briefly, is why the mystery signal picked up Wednesday evening has knocked this fleet headquarters and the port city of Norfolk on its ear.

The listening ships and planes did not locate exactly the spot of the mystery broadcast. It could have been a hoax. It could have been a ghastly mistake—some young radio amateur or service radioman practicing over a live microphone which he thought dead.

Or, hopefully, it could be the USS Scorpion.

The Navy is investigating all possibilities.

This is Bill Downs at the Atlantic Fleet headquarters in Norfolk.