Danger lurks for scuba divers after sunken ship's depth shifts

By Rebekah Allen


For many scuba divers, the thrill of visiting the sunken aircraft carrier USS Oriskany is touching the flight deck.

But Hurricane Gustav pushed the wreck deeper, putting the deck just out of safe reach of recreational divers and threatening the appeal of the underwater tourist attraction.

When the ship was sunk in May 2006, the flight deck was 135 feet down, five feet outside the recreational diving limit, but instructors said it still was relatively safe for tempted divers to make the touch.

"People just had to touch it," said Eilene Beard, Scuba Shack co-owner. "And we'd say, 'OK, bounce down there and touch it, and get back up here so you don't use all your nitrogen.' "

But after Gustav pushed through the Gulf of Mexico, the ship shifted about 10 feet deeper.

To an untrained diver, 10 feet might seem insignificant, but instructors fear the drop could affect the appeal and safety of the local attraction.

"That extra 10 feet made a huge difference," said Jim Phillips, owner of MBT Divers. "What makes the aircraft carrier different than any other ship out there is that flight deck. And everyone wants to touch that flight deck. Now that it's at 145 feet, it's luring divers a significant amount past that 130-foot limit."

Gulf of Mexico USS Oriskany Hurricane Gustav Eilene Beard MBT Divers