On February 10, US District Judge Trevor McFadden ordered the US Navy to begin releasing unclassified documents on the sinking of the Thresher on April 10, 1963, while the nuclear-powered vessel was conducting deep dive exercises.
According to US Naval Institute News, the service has been ordered to finish a review of 300 documents by April 30 and release them to the public by May 15.
“Normally, I defer to the government, but I can’t say I have a lot of confidence in how this looks now,” the district judge said. The Navy is expected to continue reviewing documents in batches of 300, releasing the batches on the 15th of each month. McFadden also called for the service to provide a status report on the documents every 60 days.
An estimated 3,600 documents are said to be related to the event, which is regarded as the most disastrous nuclear submarine incident in US history.
The judge’s order comes months after Capt. James Bryant, a retired nuclear submarine commander, filed a lawsuit against the US Navy in August 2019, calling for the service to release documents related to the Thresher’s implosion, which occurred off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts, and killed all 129 shipyard personnel and crew aboard.
“I’m trying to find out what happened because it’s good lessons learned,” Bryant told USNI News at the time of his August filing. “You need to have scholars look at this. What are we really protecting? I’m not doing this to embarrass the Navy.”
Speculation surrounding the nuclear submarine’s implosion suggested mechanical failure was the culprit, but conspiracy theories concerning possible Soviet interference have also persisted.
Nevertheless, the Thresher’s implosion brought about the US Navy’s SUBSAFE quality assurance program that is meant to ensure a submarine can recover in the event of unanticipated flooding.
Bryant argued that releasing the information would allow more people to examine what happened to the Thresher, form their own expert opinions and suggest additional ways that the Navy can improve on safety matters. The retired nuclear submarine commander told USNI News that he is particularly interested in details concerning the vessel’s main coolant pumps prior to the nuclear reactor shutting down.