First nuclear submarine disaster marks 50-year anniversary: Vista man still feels impact

USS Thresher sank in Atlantic in 1963

VISTA, Calif. - Fifty years ago next month, the U.S. Navy suffered one of the worst disasters in submarine history when the USS Thresher sank, killing all aboard. A North County man still feels the impact of that disaster on that day in April 50 years ago.

"It was one of a kind," said Bob Miller of Vista. Miller was among a handful of sailors who was actually aboard the USS Thresher during its launch on July 9, 1960.

Three years later, the nuclear-powered submarine sank in the Atlantic, killing the 129 people aboard.

The USS Thresher was designed to go faster and deeper than anything that came before it.  

Miller had been to sea on the submarine at least 40 different times but in 1963, the electronics technician made a decision to advance his career and go to school. It was a decision that saved his life.

"I was driving back from school with three others in the car," he said. "When I heard the news that Thresher had sunk, I blacked out."

It was later determined that a weld on a pipe or valve gave way, which flooded the engine room and ultimately doomed everyone on board. The submarine sank in about 5,000 feet of water.

Initially, Miller was haunted by what had happened.

"I kept thinking that maybe if I was there, I could've done something to help save her," he said.

Miller said he has since come to realize that those who were aboard that fateful day were as skilled as anyone who ever sailed and that did all they could.

Miller is preparing to attend the 50-year memorial in Maine next month. A second nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Scorpion, sank five years later under different circumstances.

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