Tragedy Aboard the USS Navasota

(South China Sea Ė Vietnam )

02/04/66

 

Iíve been writing my memoirs of late and as I was writing decided to see if there was any information on the Internet concerning a bizarre accident that happened while I was a transient aboard the USS Navasota (AO-106). I found only one reference to this horrific incident on the USS Waddell Website under ďSea Stories.Ē

 

I had been searching junks for the last year while stationed aboard the USS Finch DER 328, off the coast of Viet Nam , and had just recently transferred to the Navasota, which was in route to Subic Bay , Philippines where I would debark and fly back to the states for discharge. I had only been aboard the Navasota a couple of days when on 02/04/66 a terrible accident occurred.

 

It was sometime just before midnight when I was awakened by a sound that only a sailor would recognize. It was the collision emergency alarm indicating that either a damage control drill was going on or, God forbid, an actual collision. I didnít have to wait long to find out as the intercom crackled and then came the message over the intercom, ďThis is not a drill.Ē In my half awake state I fully understood what I had just heard and had I been on my own ship I would have immediately gone to General Quarters, but being on the Navasota as a passenger left me unsure of what was expected of me in a situation such as this. Was I to participate in drills and/or real emergencies or was I to stay out of the way and let shipís force do their job? I finally decided to stay put and assumed that the Ensign in charge of the transients would notify me if my presence was required. After reveille the next morning I showered and shaved and headed for the mess hall. It was then I became aware that the collision emergency was still in progress. I was standing on the main deck acclimating myself to the nature of the collision when I saw something I will never forget as long as I live. 

 

Sometime before midnight on February 4, 1966 Navasota had refueled both the USS Brinkley Bass (DD-887) and the USS Waddell (DDG-24). After refueling, the two ships somehow got on a collision course with each other, which resulted in the Brinkley Bass ramming the Waddell very near her centerline. The repair team that had been dispatched to the Brinkley Bass from the Navasota was being flown back by helicopter when, with disbelieving eyes, I watched as the rotor blades begin to break apart sending the helicopter into a spin and crashing into the ocean. It was a miracle any of the sailors survived the crash, but I could see them swimming from where I was standing as they struggled to keep their heads above the stormy waters.

 

Another helicopter was immediately dispatched to rescue the sailors, but as it approached the area where they were swimming for their lives, it also went down. ďThis isnít possible,Ē I thought. From my vantage point, which was about the width of a football field away, it appeared that the helicopter had gone down right on top of the sailors, but somehow it had miraculously missed hitting them. I couldnít believe what I was seeing as I stood there gripping the handrails until my knuckles turned white. Iíve never felt so helpless in my life as I did at that moment. Finally the surviving sailors were rescued by a third helicopter and flown to the USS Ranger where they were examined and treated for any injuries they may have sustained, and as soon as they were medically fit they were flown to the Philippines where they were waiting when we pulled into port a few days later? Unfortunately three of the sailors drowned during this macabre incident. Iíve refrained from telling this story to anyone, other than to family members, as it is almost beyond belief. Until finding the following article I sometimes wondered if I hadnít dreamt this nightmare but after reading the excerpts from the Waddell Website it corroborates my memory of the incident.

 

Written by: Robert Tallent McDowell

Shipfitter 2nd Class

USS Finch DER 328

1964-1966

 

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Below see article written by former Sailor from USS Waddell. Copied from ďSea StoriesĒ on the USS Waddell Website.

 

I enjoyed surfing the data on the Waddell - interesting stuff on the Log. The one for 1967 (02/04/66) was most interesting, and I think most comprehensive so far as I personally remember. There is a misprint, in the Ships Log circa of 1967 (02/04/66) on the ship we were refueling from; prior to the collision with the Bass- I believe it was the USS Navasota (true)-- missing some letter or letters in the write up.  She also was the one who sent damage control people to assist the Bass, who had her 'nose' busted some 80 frames from the bow, and while coming back by Helo, the Helo crashed in the Sea, and there were a number of the Navasota's people lost in the accident (three) -- further, a second Helo was sent to help in recovery, and it too crashed in the Sea. A lousy night for all, including those of us who were really keyed up from the shoot out while attempting to recover/rescue the downed pilot, off of Vinh.  A miserable ending to a great ships 'Greatness' in my opinion. I heard even 7th Fleet Himself, I believe that would be ADM. Moorer, wept at hearing of this accident, after we had been so competent in Sea Air Rescue, and the Operations around Hanoi. Capt. Walker would recall probably. Memory is filled with that period, for me -- much adrenalin poured out for all of our crew.

 

Note: Blue font indicates corrections made by:

Robert Tallent McDowell

Shipfitter 2nd Class

(US Navy 1962-1966)

 

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Below you will find bits and pieces of information I found on the Internet concerning this incident.

 

USS Apache AT-67

 

In early February 1966, the USS Apache AT-67 escorted the USS Brinkley Bass (DD-887) to Subic Bay following the destroyer's collision with the USS Waddell (DDG-24) in the South China Sea .

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On February 2nd, 1966 the USS Brinkley Bass (DD-887) and the USS Waddell (DDG-24) collided in the Gulf of Tonkin . The bow of the USS Tingey (DD-539 was used to repair the Brinkley Bass. The Tingey was then buried at sea, being sunk as a target in May 1966.

 

Note: It was on the 4th just before midnight when the collision occurred not the 2nd.

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On 4 February Waddell (DDG-24) and Brinkley Bass (DD-887) collided while maneuvering for position during a SAR mission near Cap Falaise in North Vietnam . Both ships suffered extensive damage but were able to proceed toward Subic at five knots. No personnel were injured. At NSRF Subic it was estimated that Waddell would require 16 to 18 weeks of repair plus two additional weeks for the ASROC systems check. Brinkley Bass, it was reported, would need a new bow.

 

Note: Wrong information. I was there and it was after being refueled by the USS Navasota (AO-106) that the two ships collided not during a SAR mission.

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Pacific 02/04/66: The USS Brinkley Bass (DD-887) and USS Waddell

(DDG-24) are heavily damaged in a collision while forming for

Operations in the Gulf of Tonkin . Note: Once again wrong information.

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USS BRINKLEY BASS (DD 887) collided with the USS WADDELL. As a result of the collision, WADDELL had to return to the Philippines for repairs, which lasted until late February.

 

Note: The Brinkley Bass also returned to the Philippines for repairs.

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Jack Bundy, Machinist Mate Third Class, Brinkley Bass, 1964-1967. News article about 1966 collision, operations.

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Two US warships, the destroyers USS Waddell & USS Brinkley Bass collided at sea in early 1966. Both ships were heavily damaged, but only one sailor was injured. However, three sailors were lost at sea when a helicopter from the carrier USS Ranger crashed at sea returning from working on the destroyers.

 

Note: I think the Ranger must have been involved in this operation as destroyers donít carry helicopters and neither do Oilers and three helicopters were involved in a very short time. Iíve always wondered how the survivors got to Subic Bay so quickly as we didnít arrive for about another week and they were waiting on the pier when the Navasota pulled into port. Itís too far for a helicopter to fly so they were probably taken to the Ranger where they could be examined and treated for any injuries they may have sustained. After that they were probably flown by jet to the Philippines .

 

I think Iíve finally figured it out after all these years. The Ranger was the missing part of the puzzle. I remember the morning of 02/05/66 as being very wet with low hanging fog surrounding the Brinkley Bass and the Waddell so it would have been easy to miss the Ranger if she was standing by a few miles away. This missing piece of information is the key to much of what went on that day.  

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SH-3 Helicopter

 

While the SH-3 helicopter was designed and equipped for anti-submarine warfare, it was commonly used for intership transportation among the 7th Fleet ships operating in the Gulf of Tonkin and South China Sea areas.

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The USS NAVASOTA (AO-106) was a fleet oiler, which replenished the warships with fuel oil, aviation gasoline, and jet fuel. During operations offshore Vietnam , three NAVASOTA crewmen were lost at sea when the SH-3A (BuNo 149926) they were aboard enroute to the USS RANGER (CVA-61) went down. (The sailors were being flown back to the USS Navasota after assisting the Brinkley Bass on a helicopter from the Ranger). As with most at-sea losses, their remains could not be recovered. The three men were:

 

Chief Shipfitter Bernard J. Sparenberg, Baltimore , MD

Shipfitter First Class Glenn E. Asmussen, Washington D.C.

Shipfitter Second Class Dan D. McConnaugehay, Artesia , CA .

 

These are the three sailors who drowned when the helicopter carrying the Navasota repair team back from the Brinkley Bass went down.

 

Note: The memorial site I took this information from says they were from the USS Ranger, but that is incorrect. They were stationed aboard the USS Navasota and being flown back on a helicopter dispatched from the USS Ranger. These men had just completed their repair mission on the USS Brinkley Bass and were being flown back to the Navasota when the helicopter went down. I saw the whole thing. I emailed the memorial and asked if they were sure of their information. Hopefully they will respond.

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Com 7th Fleet Vietnam Ship Casualties - US Naval Ships

USS NAVASOTA AO-106

02/05/66 - SFC Bernard J. Sparenberg, Baltimore , MD - [MIA South China Sea - SH3A Passenger]

02/05/66 - SF1 Glenn E. Asmussen, Washington , DC - [MIA South China Sea - SH3A Passenger]

02/05/66 - SFM2 Dan D. McConnaugehay, Artesia , CA - [MIA South China Sea - SH3A Passenger

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Name: Glenn Edward Asmussen
Rank/Branch: United States Navy/E6/Aircrew
Unit:
Date of Birth: 26 April 1922
Home City of Record: Washington DC
Date of Loss: 05 February 1966
Country of Loss: South Vietnam over water
Loss Coordinates:
Status (in 1973):
Category:
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: SH3A
Missions:
Other Personnel in Incident: unknown
Refno: 2033

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Name: Bernard John Sparenberg

Branch/Rank: United States Navy/E7

Unit:

Date of Birth: 27 March 1929

Home City of Record: BALTIMORE MD

Date of Loss: 05 February 1966

Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over Water

Loss Coordinates: 0 0

Status (in 1973): Killed In Action/Body Not Recovered

Category: 5

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: HELI

Missions:

Other Personnel in Incident:

Refno:

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Iíve searched the Internet using every skill I have as a web surfer but have been unable to find much information on SFM2 Dan D. McConnaugehay, from Artesia , CA .

 

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Robert,

 

I'm going to forward a copy of your email and attachment to Capt. Grant Walker, Bob Boles, the Waddell Association Historian and the www.usswaddell.com Webmaster. I'm sure your account of the collision between the Bass and Waddell will become part of the History section of the web site. Thanks, it was an interesting read.

 

Bill Brewer, IC2, 66-68

USS Waddell DDG-24

06/20/2004