UT Grad’s Firm Helps Recover Valujet Parts

MORGAN CITY, La. — A University of Tennessee graduate’s salvaging firm is helping solve the puzzle of why Valujet flight 592 crashed into the Everglades.

Oceaneering International provided the high-tech listening device which found the plane’s voice-recorder “black box” containing the last words spoken in the cockpit prior to the May 11 crash.

Johnny Johnson, a native of Alcoa, Tenn., and one of Oceaneering’s founders, said special equipment was needed because working the Everglades is nothing like ocean salvaging.

“In deep water, you have the advantage of clarity, not the obstacles and network of confusion you find in shallow, murky water,” Johnson said.

“The shallow water is mud and sawgrass, almost like walking on quicksand.”

Oceaneering has been involved in some of the most highly-publicized deep-sea salvage operations the last 25 years, including recovering parts of the space shuttle Challenger from the Atlantic Ocean floor.

Since 1975, the firm has located 150 airplanes underwater. In 1984, an Oceaneering team helped find the Lusitania which sank off the coast of Ireland in World War I.

Oceaneering crews helped raise the safe of the ocean liner Andrea Doria which sank off Nantucket in 1968 and was involved in the search for the missing plane of Amelia Earhart, who disappeared 58 years ago while attempting to be the first woman to fly across the Pacific Ocean.

Oceaneering also has salvaging contracts with the U.S. Navy and numerous petroleum companies. It has offices throughout the world. Equipment for its Gulf of Mexico operations is based in Morgan City.

Johnson obtained an education degree from UT-Knoxville in 1961. He and UT engineering graduate Mike Hughes in 1964 founded a deep-sea salvaging company which later merged with another to form Oceaneering.

Johnson played baseball and was on the swimming team at UT-Knoxville.