ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise ran aground in the sand Thursday a half-mile from home port and was stuck for nearly six hours, leaving 4,500 frustrated crewmen aboard and thousands of wives, sweethearts and children waiting on the dock.
The 90,000-ton nuclear-powered carrier missed the edge of a 400-yard wide, 40-foot deep ship channel while maneuvering into port in overcast and windy weather about 9:30 a.m. PDT.
Nine military and civilian tug boats rocked the huge ship off the sandbar at 3:12 p.m. PDT as high tide swept through the bay. It sailed into port with its 4,500 crewmen and berthed at Alameda about 90 minutes later, changing the frowns to smiles as reunited loved ones embraced.
'Thank heavens they made it,' said one woman carrying a tiny infant. 'My husband has never seen his new baby.'
The incident in the ship's home port left 3,000 spectators and families of crewmen -- who had been at sea eight months -- waiting restlessly at the air station pier, gazing out into the bay at the beached ship.
In a news conference, Capt. R.J. Kelly said bluntly: 'I am the captain and I was in control. I am totally responsible for what happened. The cause is under investigation. We do not know at this time exactly what happened.'
He said he had previously made the entry into Alameda without incident many times.
He said the ship, which is about 1,100 feet long and 133 feet wide, was coming in on a flood tide, which held the ship on the sandbar when it became grounded.
'Naturally, it's embarrassing,' said Kelly.
The weather was overcast at the time of the accident but there was no heavy fog.
Capt. Jack McAuley, one of those aboard, said, 'It was a real drag, being so close and yet so far. We couldn't do anything but sit around and grin and bear it.'
George Tekai, who plays Mr. Sulu in the 'Star Trek' series flew aboard the ship at 7 a.m. on a helicopter.
He later quipped, 'Our vessel is the starship Enterprise and this is the USS Enterprise. We've got a new drink -- Enterprise on the Rocks.'
But while the ship was stuck in view of the shore, frustration ran high along the docks.
'I keep waiting and waiting and waiting,' said Debbie Harris, 21, of Show Low, Ariz., as she gazed at the stuck ship that included her crewman husband. 'I'll wait forever if I have to. I'll catch pneumonia if I have to.'
She said she had rented a hotel room where she would spend the night with her husband, Petty Officer Kenneth Harris. They married two years ago and she has not seen him in nine months.
The Enterprise was returning from an eight-month tour of duty in the western Pacific.
Many crewmen aboard missed connecting flights out of San Francisco.
A Navy spokesman said it appeared there was no serious damage to the big ship, but stressed a thorough check would be made.
While it was stuck, the carrier could be seen, listing about 10 degrees to port side, from San Francisco high-rise office buildings. The tugs struggled to keep the ship from listing further or grinding farther into the bay bottom.
The Enterprise, launched in 1960, was the Navy's first nuclear-powered carrier. It saw action in Vietnam, with its fighter planes carrying out numerous missions during the war.
The ship was returning from an eight-month tour of the Pacific and Indian oceans.
The carrier had come under the Golden Gate at dawn. The half-mile long channel into the Alameda base is regularly dredged to a depth of 40-foot at 'low water.' It is marked by buoys on both sides.
An official of the civilian San Francisco Bar Pilots Association said a civilian pilot had been in charge of steering the ship as it sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge but had turned over command to a Navy pilot before the Enterprise went aground.