NORFOLK, Va.--One of the Navy's last diesel-electric submarines wallowed helpless on the surface yesterday awaiting a salvage vessel after an underwater explosion and toxic fire injured 22 sailors and left three missing.
The 30-year-old USS Bonefish, its remaining crew evacuated to shore bases, floated alongside the frigate USS McCloy about 160 miles off the Florida coast, said Chief Petty Officer Terry D. Borton, a spokesman at Atlantic Fleet headquarters in Norfolk.
There was no apparent danger that the submarine, which carries only conventional weapons, would sink, Borton said.
"The decision made was that no one goes aboard" until a specialized submarine rescue ship, the USS Petrel, arrived later in the day, Borton said.
Specialists on the Petrel, based at Charleston, S.C., with the Bonefish, "will make an assessment when it is safe to board the Bonefish. They have the expertise and the equipment to test the toxicity of the air" inside the boat, said Lt. Fred Henney, another fleet spokesman.
It was not known if the missing men were aboard the sub or in the water.
The explosion occurred Sunday afternoon in the boat's battery compartment while the Bonefish was submerged on a routine training mission, said Borton.
The explosion triggered a fire that filled the 219-foot vessel with smoke and toxic fumes. The sub surfaced and Mike Wilson, the commander, ordered it evacuated.
The frigate USS Carr, which also was part of the training exercise, took aboard 89 of the Bonefish's 92 crewmen. The McCloy, which also was training nearby, reached the Bonefish before nightfall, the Navy said.
Also steaming to the scene and expected to arrive today was the salvage ship USS Hoist from the Little Creek Amphibious Base in Norfolk.
The Bonefish was launched in 1958 from New York Shipbuilding in Camden, N.J. It is powered on the surface by three 1500-horsepower diesel engines that drive a single propeller and charge batteries. While submerged, the batteries power two electric motors.
The Bonefish and its two sister ships, the Barbel and Blueback, are among the last of the Navy's diesel-electric submarines and are used principally to mimic Soviet submarines in training exercises. The Soviets still operate about 100 diesel-electric boats.
The 22 injured were transferred to the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, which steamed to Mayport, Fla. From there they were flown to the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville. The other crewmen were taken to Mayport by the Carr and flown to the Charleston Air Force Base, where they arrived yesterday afternoon.
Atlantic Fleet headquarters said two sailors were seriously injured, but the nature and extent of their injuries was not immediately available.