James D. Hobbs, skipper of vessel that found sunken USS Scorpion

September 29, 1994|By DeWitt Bliss | DeWitt Bliss,Sun Staff Writer

Capt. James D. Hobbs, who commanded the oceanographic research vessel that found the sunken remains of the USS Scorpion in 1968, died Sept. 19 of cancer at the Meridian Nursing Center-Multi Medical in Towson. He was 79.

As commander of the USNS Mizar, which the Navy's Military Sea Transportation Service operated for the Naval Research Laboratory and the Oceanographer of the Navy, he sailed from Norfolk, Va., shortly after the nuclear submarine became overdue there on May 27, 1968.

Using sonar, remote-control cameras and other instruments, the Mizar's civilian crew found the remains of the Scorpion five months later, 10,000 feet down in the Atlantic, off the Azores.

It has since been learned that the Scorpion and its crew of 99 may have gone down when a torpedo exploded while being tested.

For leading the effort to find the Scorpion, Captain Hobbs received the Navy's Meritorious Civilian Service Award and a letter of commendation. He was also named Mariner of the Year in the Atlantic by the Sea Transportation Service.

These were not his first commendations. Earlier citations include one for the 1951 rescue of the crew and passengers of a freighter, the SS Flying Enterprise, 300 miles off England in a violent North Atlantic storm.

Sixto Mangual, of New Bedford, Mass., who was first officer of the Mizar in 1968, described Captain Hobbs as "a good seaman who ran complicated operations very well."

Mr. Mangual said the captain was easy to get along with if you performed your duties. "We had no problems," he said, adding, "If I could go back, I'd like to go back under him."

Born in Ahoskie, N.C., Captain Hobbs worked his way through the National University Law School, now part of George Washington University, while a clerk for the Works Progress Administration. He graduated in 1940.

After working for the War Production Board, he joined the Army Transportation Corps as a civilian trainee and was a first mate aboard a ship in the Southwest Pacific before leaving government service at the end of World War II.

Before joining the civilian Military Sea Transportation Service in 1950, he had worked with Jacques Cousteau on one of the researcher's ships. He had also worked on a Cousteau research project on Gulf Stream drift in 1969.

He started his MSTS service as an ordinary seaman but almost immediately was upgraded to able seaman. By 1954, he had become an officer.

At his retirement in 1972, he had been captain of the USNS Lynch, an oceanographic research vessel, since 1969. He had become an expert on Arctic operations during his career.

He first came to Baltimore while studying for his captain's license, and in 1963 was married to the former June E. Brown. They had made their home in Northeast Baltimore ever since.

After he retired, he served for a time as master of the Port Welcome, a tour boat that sailed from the Baltimore harbor.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter, Sharon Baker of Baltimore; and a grandson.

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