The USS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg is on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, in about 140 feet of water seven miles off Key West.
Divers have confirmed that it is sitting upright, with the keel in the sand.
The former troop transport ship successfully sunk in about two minutes at about 10:21 a.m. today.
After two audible explosions, plumes of smoke rose and the ship slowly descended, apparently settling upright on the bottom.
"It's looking good, it's looking good, it's going down straight," Capt. Sheri Lohr said as the Vandenberg gradually disappeared. "For once I'm speechless."
Lohr is one of the co-founders of project organizer Artificial Reefs of the Keys.
Sinking the 522-foot-long mothballed Navy ship, the world's second-largest artificial reef, was a decade-long project
BEHOLD....It was a SIGHT to See!
(Video courtsey of Monroe County Tourist Development)
It took $8.6 million (£5.3 million) and more than ten years to prepare the USNS General Hoyt S.Vandenberg for its big day. Yet when the time came, it was all over in less than two minutes.
In an emotional ceremony witnessed by US Navy and Air Force veterans, the Second World War troop ship and Cold War missile tracker was holed by explosives and sent to the ocean floor seven miles off the Florida Keys yesterday to start a new life as the world’s second largest artificial reef.
Since its decommissioing in 1986, the 17,250-ton Vandenberg had spent years rusting at its moorings on a river in Virginia as part of the US Maritime Administration’s “ghost fleet”. Its sinking is seen by maritime enthusiasts as a glorious finale to its 66-year story.
“Not only will it be the second largest ship in the world intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef, but it is of huge historical significance,” said Morgan McPherson, the Mayor of Key West.
Kept in position by four eight-ton anchors, the 523ft ship now rests on the seabed at a depth of 140ft — where it is expected to become a magnet for marine life and for divers, drawing some of the traffic away from natural coral reefs in the area.
Within six months, the Vandenberg should be covered with plants and invertebrates that will help to grow the food chain for fish such as grouper, snapper and barracuda. Fish are expected within hours and recreational divers could be allowed as soon as today or tomorrow, once experts confirm that the vessel has settled properly. Coral and sponges will take longer to colonise the wreck — possibly years.
The bulk of the project’s time and cost has been spent in stripping the vessel of environmental hazards and contaminants — one million feet of electrical wiring, 193 tonnes of potentially cancer-causing substances, 1,500 gaskets, 46 tonnes of rubbish and loose parts, 71 cubic yards of asbestos, 300lbs of mercury and 10,340 gallons of paint chips. The work took 75,000 man hours.
The plan came close to capsizing last year when sub-contractors cleaning the ship took legal action over $1.6 million in unpaid bills, prompting a judge to order that the Vandenberg be sold to the highest bidder for scrap. The City of Key West and Florida State officials put together a rescue plan and bought it back at auction.
The Vandenberg, originally named USS General Harry Taylor, first saw duty in 1944, ferrying American troops to the Pacific and, after the war, in bringing soldiers and Holocaust survivors out of Europe. Ownership was transferred to the air force in 1961, when it was for eavesdropping on Russian missile launches during the Cold War and tracking US missile launches and Nasa space missions including the Apollo moon flights.