Demolition experts pushed a button that ignited cutting charges strategically positioned in bilge areas below the ship’s waterline and The Vandenberg disappeared below the waterline less than two minutes later at a location approximately seven miles south of Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The water depth at the sink site is 140 feet, but the 523-foot Vandenberg is so large that its upper superstructure lies only 40 feet below the surface of the ocean. The ship is the second largest vessel in the world ever purposely sunk to become an artificial reef.
The sinking also completes the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trek, a series of intentionally sunk vessels that begins off Key Largo with the Spiegel Grove and ends with the Vandenberg. When ready, it will provide new habitat for marine life, a recreational venue for divers and fishermen and an "underwater classroom" for marine science students. Seventy percent of the $8.6 million project’s funding resources and some 75,000 man-hours were required to rid the vessel of contaminants.
The removals and additional ship cleansing were required to receive the necessary federal and state permits to sink the ship in the sanctuary without risking environmental impact to the marine ecosystem.
Project organisers say the prime attraction of the Vandenberg is its huge size and diversified structure that should appeal to divers of all skill levels. While some sections of the ship are expected to rise to within 40 feet of the surface, other areas should appeal to divers with advanced certification to dive in deep environments beneath overhead structures.
The ship first saw duty as a U.S. Army troop transport named the General Harry Taylor. It became the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg in 1963 and tracked Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space launches off Cape Canaveral. It was retired in 1983, but received its most public exposure when cast as a Russian science ship in Virus, a 1999 film starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland.
Project officials say the Vandenberg reef is expected to generate $80 million in tourism-related sales during the next 10 years, and point out environmental benefits including alleviating recreational diving pressure on natural coral reefs.
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