"What is the latest on our ship project in the Pacific?" President
The question belied the immense significance of what Ford was asking about.
The hope was to secure cryptographic information and an R-21 missile and its nuclear warhead to provide "a much improved base line for estimates of the current and future Soviet strategic threat."
Only a portion of the submarine, with some of its dead crew, was hoisted up through the bottom of the huge recovery ship, the Hughes Glomar Explorer, after the claw arms that scooped up the crumpled vessel malfunctioned.
"Well, sir, as you know, the (recovery) tines were damaged when we picked up the sub," and some of it was dropped and lost, Director of Central Intelligence
A Soviet tug that shadowed the mission had left the area, apparently none the wiser. The Glomar Explorer was then headed to
"It is very hard to tell what they have, but they have detected some radioactivity," Colby told the president during the conversation, which was recently declassified.
Forty years ago this summer, the
The intrigue involved was equally impressive, and still astounds as fact worthy of
"Azorian ranks in the forefront of imaginative and bold operations undertaken in the long history of intelligence collection," the
Cracking open the door a bit more, recently declassified transcripts of high-level government discussions indicate that once the project was revealed in the press -- and as
"It seems beyond doubt that the Soviets would go to great lengths to frustrate or disrupt a second mission," the
The hunt for K-129, including a second recovery plan known as Matador, was soon over.
In retrospect, Project Azorian "was beyond comprehension when you consider, one, no one had ever lifted anything that large from that depth in history. Secondly, it was done with the Soviets sitting there watching with no idea what was happening," said naval expert and author
Polmar throws in a third incredible element of the mission: the cover story that the Glomar Explorer was collecting "manganese nodules" from the seafloor -- a fiction that spurred further investigation of such mining, he said.
Each of the three missiles had 1-megaton warheads with 65 times the destructive power used on
The submarine never made it.
Why it went down was never definitively answered, but it may have been simply a case of flooding while operating in snorkel mode. The Soviets couldn't find it, but the U.S. military did -- detecting the sounds of its death as it descended, and pinpointing the location.
Polmar believes one of the R-21 missile rocket engines was mistakenly fired, causing a chain reaction that killed the crew.
The U.S. submarine Halibut subsequently located the sunken sub.
With Craven secretly funding the work, the Halibut received
Craven, who lives on
Another theory put forth was that the K-129 sank in a collision with the U.S. submarine Swordfish.
In any case, in 1968 and 1969 the
Hughes himself was the sole stockholder, "he is recognized as a pioneering entrepreneur with a wide variety of business interests, he has the necessary financial resources, he habitually operates in secrecy, and his personal eccentricities are such that news media reporting and speculation about his activities frequently range from the truth to utter fiction," states a
Officials later said Hughes was eager to become a "front" for the CIA?as protection from government regulatory and investigative agencies.
The 618-foot Glomar Explorer, with a capture claw nicknamed Clementine extending beneath a "moon pool" on the ship, arrived at the recovery site
Piping carried the recovery device down to the K-129, which was broken in two pieces, according to Polmar. The target section was 136 feet long.
"I remember seeing one of the photographs, a sailor, lying on the bottom, just a skeleton, no clothes, no foul weather gear, just a skeleton, with boots on," Polmar's book quotes an engineer who worked on the project as saying.
Two Soviet navy ships frequented the site, at one point asking the Glomar Explorer what it was up to.
"We are conducting ocean mining tests," came the answer.
"Our cover story had held; the Soviets had been fooled," a crew member noted.
But on the way up some of the grabber claws failed, sending two-thirds of the sub crashing back to the seafloor, according to Polmar.
A section 38 feet long, six crewmen (who were reburied at sea), two crushed nuclear torpedoes and some documents reportedly were recovered.
Evidence of plutonium was found, apparently from the detonation of high explosives on one or both torpedoes without creating a nuclear explosion, the
"For cover reasons," the ship sent a message saying that a faulty manganese nodule "collector vehicle" would need to be looked at in
The Glomar Explorer headed to Lahaina Roads off
The mission crew was relieved that evening by an "exploitation team" to recover, process and package the intelligence items, according to the
Most Popular Stories
- National Retail Federation Reduces Sales Forecast
- Pandora Tumbles in Late Trading
- Sporty Ford Fiesta Fires on All 3 Cylinders
- Stop-Start Engines Save Gas, Reduce Emissions
- World Tensions Don't Curb Enthusiasm for Stocks
- Russia Fears Lasting Damage From Ukraine Crisis
- Visa, Amazon Results Drag Down the Street
- U.K. Economy Surpasses Pre-Crisis Peak
- Hispanic Leader Goes the Extra Mile
- Ohio State Band Chief Fired After Probe