Ex-WWII landing craft gets stuck in lake along Cumberland River


A museum ship ran aground in Kentucky’s Lake Barkley during a driving rain.

A decommissioned warship that survived the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy, USS LST 325 sailed off course during a voyage in the Cumberland River on Oct. 1, 2012.

LST 325 was on its way back to its home port in Evansville, Ind., after a tour of Nashville and Clarksville, Tenn., when limited visibility from the rain led the vessel out of the channel and into shallow water at about 1700.

A qualified river pilot with 35 years of experience was at the helm near Kuttawa, Ky. The channel follows the path of the Cumberland River through Lake Barkley.

An official cause has not been determined because the U.S. Coast Guard report was not finalized at press time, according to Lt. Dan McQuate, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Paducah, Ky.

However, the ship’s captain called it “just one of those things.” Bob Jornlin, a Navy veteran who led the crew that brought LST 325 back to the U.S. from Greece, said the vessel is equipped with modern radar, GPS, chartplotter and depth finder.

Despite the equipment and experienced hand at the helm, the quirky winds and currents led LST 325 astray. Jornlin had earlier made the decision to delay the voyage and transit the tricky river channel during daylight hours.

“Basically accidents happen and you don’t always really know why,” Jornlin said.

The rescue was quite a challenge. LST stands for “Landing Ship, Tank.” The ship, which draws 8.5 feet of water, was designed to beach on the shore to offload tanks and other fighting vehicles. But the Cumberland River bed proved to be its match.

Hunter Marine and Ingram Barge Co. both sent towboats that were unable to budge the ship. Finally on Oct. 3, Luhr Brothers Inc. dispatched a towboat with three empty barges to push against the ship.

On the first attempt, the towboat tried to move the LST by itself, snapping three lines in the process.

For the second attempt, the towboat and barges carried the LST’s rear anchor about 400 feet astern. It was the first time the crew had deployed the rear anchor, which was designed to pull the ship off beaches after amphibious landings. Then the towboat tied up to the LST, using four new heavier lines.

Also, Jornlin sallied the ship, filling and emptying the forward ballast tanks on the port and starboard sides of the ship. That rocking motion helped break the suction of the muddy bottom. With the ship’s main engine in slow reverse, the towboats and the LST’s LCVP (or Higgins boat) pushing as well, LST 325 floated again. The crew felt a huge relief when the ship began slipping backwards.

“When the old girl started moving and it kind of vibrated, I can’t tell you how great we all felt,” Jornlin said.

“We can’t thank the two companies enough, they have really helped us throughout the years,” Jornlin said.

By Professional Mariner Staff