USAFS General Hoyt S. Vandenburg
Location: Key West, FL
She is a 522’ retired Air Force missile-tracking ship intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef off Key West in May 2009. The bottom of the ship's hull rests on sand in depths that average 145’ but the ship is so massive that the superstructure begins about 45 feet below the surface. Last used by the U.S. Air Force to track missiles and spacecraft became the world's second-largest intentionally sunk artificial reef. Preparation for sinking had taken months of inspections and cleanup to remove contaminants. Workers hauled off more than a million feet of wire, 1,500 vent gaskets, dozens of watertight steel doors, 81 bags of asbestos, 193 tons of potentially cancer-causing substances, 46 tons of garbage that could come loose and float to the surface, 300 pounds of materials containing mercury and 185 55-gallon drums of paint chips. The cleanup was performed at two Norfolk, Va., shipyards before the boat made the 1,100-mile voyage, arriving in Key West on April 22. Permitting was required from 18 local, state and federal agencies. The Vandenberg began as the Gen. Harry Taylor and was later commissioned by the Army as a transport vessel, ferrying troops and supplies from San Francisco to island bases in the western Pacific Ocean in 1944. In 1945, it carried troops home from Europe near the end of World War II. It was later used by the Navy as a transport ship, and was transferred to the Air Force in 1961, when it was renamed the Vandenberg. For about 20 more years, the ship served as a missile tracker throughout the height of the Cold War and was retired in 1983. The world’s largest intentionally sunk artificial reef is the 888’ USS Oriskany, sunk in 2006 off the coast of Pensacola Beach in the Florida Panhandle. The sinking of the 522’ USS Vandenberg moves the 510’ Spiegel Grove off Key Largo to third on this impressive list.