Five Decades of Adventure in the Abyss: A Q & A with Author Kurt Newport

Purdue University Press spoke with author Curt Newport about his new book, Ready to Dive. Ready to Dive is a gritty, blunt, and real firsthand subsea account unlike any other. Newport was there on the front lines and in the trenches of some of the most daring and consequential deep ocean search and recovery operations of our time, rigging lift lines, piloting underwater vehicles, and dealing with the carnage following both military and civilian plane crashes. The book details how he got into the subsea field, a career lasting nearly fifty years.

Q: Could you give a brief description of your book?

The book is really about my life, growing up as an Army dependent and my participation in several notable and/or historic underwater search and recovery operations. It is not all about the underwater stuff, because I also describe what it was like to race a Lotus 51C Formula Ford in England at age 19 and my feelings when one of my friends was killed during a race. I also talk about my family in detail as both my mother and father had a big hand in how I turned out as an individual. It was difficult for me being in an Army family as we were always moving. I dealt with it well when I was younger, but as I became an adult, I rebelled. What I’ve tried to do is describe what it is like to work at sea in sometimes grueling conditions doing very physical labor, as well as the technology used to detect and raise aircraft and spacecraft from deep water.

Q: What is the goal of your book? What motivated you to write it?

I suppose my goal was to simply tell a story – my story. I wrote it to leave something behind, i.e., a written work telling others about my life, especially my daughter. Also, to my knowledge, no one has written a definitive account of many of the search and salvage operations I participated in; at least not someone who was there. I wanted to put context to the events. I also wanted to describe how deep ocean searches are conducted, from both the technological and operational standpoints.

Q: Is there anything that shocked or surprised you while working on this project?

How difficult it is to get FOIA approval from the US Navy to publish an unclassified photograph. It’s been five months and I’m still waiting.

Q: What skills or attributes do you think contributed most to your success in deep ocean search and recovery? Why/How?

Simply being determined and never giving up. I also had a strong technical background, first in mechanics and later with electrical systems. Finally, I read extensively about previous underwater salvage operations, i.e., the equipment involved, and procedures used. It is always good to know how others did things in previous decades.

Q: What is an experience where you felt as if you had failed?

During the 2000 search for the USS Indianapolis and the later search for the ARA General Belgrano. We didn’t really know how bad the terrain was where the Indy sank as such information was not available at the time. Doing the search was a gamble and we had no idea the ship’s location was off by over 30 nautical miles. In the Belgrano search, we just got beat up by the weather as it sank in a bad location, from the environmental standpoint. The Southern Ocean is a horrible place to work.

Q: What are your three most important deep ocean search and recovery items? Why?

Liberty Bell 7, because everyone said finding it was impossible. A 19th Century shipwreck (found during the Liberty Bell 7 search) because at the time, it was the deepest shipwreck of any type ever found. A C-2A Greyhound aircraft ditched in the Philippine Sea because we found it using a damaged tow cable and this was the deepest pinger search ever done (18,500 feet of seawater).

Q: What are your 3 desert island items?  Why? 

A Garmin iridium satellite phone so I can call for help; A solar generator to keep the satellite phone charged; and a Randall survival knife to cut wood, start fires, and process game.

Q: How do you define success?

When you find and identify the target within the budget.

Q: If a movie were made about your career, who would play your character?

Maybe Keanu Reeves in his younger days; I think he could get my character.

Q: What is one question you wish I would have asked?

I suppose you could have asked me about my parents. I was lucky in that I had a good mother and father. My mom came from a large family of Armenian heritage, and she always wanted the best for me and always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. Mom’s family welcomed my dad into the fold, which was good for him, as he had a difficult childhood. Dad never really knew his father and was ultimately raised by his grandparents. However, that didn’t stop him from becoming a highly regarded Army officer and aviator. My father was very intelligent and managed to survive three wars without injury (WW II, Korea, and Vietnam). He was very lucky.

Q:  Do you have any advice for people interested in careers in deep ocean search and recovery?

Simply be aware that it is a profession that uses up lives, bodies, and marriages. Doing hard work on deck will use up a person’s body, physically. The stress from the job often goes hand in hand with drug and alcohol abuse.  Finally, most marriages do not survive the months spent at sea. I would advise people to find another career, as fulfilling as it can be.

You can get 30% off Ready to Dive: Five Decades of Adventure in the Abyss and any other Purdue University Press book by ordering from our website and using the code PURDUE30 at checkout.