It was called the worst peacetime submarine disaster of all time. The USS Thresher, a nuclear-powered submarine rated as the world's fastest and deepest-diving, had gone down for a test dive and not resurfaced. On April 11, 1963, the US Navy declared the ship lost, along with the 129 aboard.
One of those 129 was a former Broughton High School athlete Robert Gosnell. Called Butch, he had entered the Navy as a reservist while still in high school and went on active duty after graduating in 1962.
Gosnell was on the high school's swimming team and won several medals in statewide competition, specializing in "fancy diving and swimming."
His coach, Clyde Etheridge, described Gosnell as "very friendly, a boy with a real sense of humility."
"Although he never won any top trophies, he did his best always -- that's all you can ask of anybody."
The Thresher carried one other North Carolina native, James Alton Musselwhite from Fayetteville. He had quit school in the ninth grade to join the Navy and was married with three children.
Navy Secretary Fred B. Korth officially declared ... that the submarine Thresher and all 129 men aboard are lost.
In issuing his formal declaration, Korth expressed "a fervent hope that the rumors and speculation which have already begun will cease, providing the bereaved families a more stable climate in which to compose themselves and endure their grief."
A searching submarine (Seawolf) had reported picking up undersea sounds which might possibly indicate the location of the lost submarine....
The destroyer Warrington reported finding red and yellow gloves and bits of plastic floating in an oil slick on the surface. The gloves were of the type used in the Thresher's nuclear reactor section and the plastic was used to shield the reactor from spreading radiation through the vessel.
Recovery of these objects indicated the Thresher's hull had been penetrated and dashed whatever dramatic hopes might have been raised by another report from the Seawolf -- that her detectors had picked up what sounded like metal banging against metal.
"We hear a tapping on the hull," said one message relayed through a surface ship.
The Seawolf said these noises apparently were pings from an emergency sound emitter in the submerged object. This is an automatic device which could operate without human direction....
President Kennedy, a former Navy man who anxiously followed news of the far-flung search operation 220 miles off Boston, paid tribute to the courage and dedication of the men lost in the Thresher's hull at the bottom of the Atlantic.
Kennedy noted in a statement that the 278-foot long attack submarine Thresher "pioneered a new era in the eternal drama of the sea, diving deeper and going faster than any submarine before it."
"The courage and dedication of these men of the sea, pushing ahead into depths to advance our knowledge and capabilities, is no less than that of their forefathers who led the advance on the frontiers of our civilization," Kennedy said. -- The N&O 4/12/1963
Prior to the loss of the Thresher, the worst peacetime submarine disaster was the sinking of the British sub Thetis and the loss of 99 men on June 1, 1939. Also in 1939, the U.S. submarine Squalus lost 26 of the 59 aboard when it went down off the New Hampshire coast, but that was "before the atomic age."