Could you really get life in prison for briefly taking over the Nimitz?

When I was in the Navy there was a story “making the rounds” about a guy who supposedly broke into the auxillary control room (I think of the Nimitz) and briefly took over control of the ship basically for kicks. Supposedly, he got life in prison w/o hope of parole for his stunt. I always thought this was a so called “urban legend” for two reasons:

  1. I doubt that it would be possible for one person to take over control of an air-craft carrier and over ride the bridge.

  2. Even if someone did this as a “stunt” I doubt they would get life without parole.

Can anyone else out there attest to the veracity of this event or its possibility of being true?

Can’t say whether or not it happened, but considering the potential of that ship I also can’t say that I’m shocked by the sentence.

You could take over a small country with that thing if you knew what you were doing.

Why’s that? It happened to the Enterprise, like, four times a season. :wink:

Not by yourself you couldn’t. Those ships are complicated. I don’t know what one man could do, but it would be a lot less than control the ship.
I have a brother in law on that vessel; now I have something to talk about next time I hear from him.

I’d be very surprised if the bridge was ever unattended.

And wouldn’t this put you squarely in ‘enemy combatant’ land?

Well this story dates back to the 1990’s when I was stationed at Pearl. I’m not even sure that we had “enemy combatents” back then. Also, if I remember correctly it was supposed to have occured on the East coast, as the ship was going into harbor. I think it also invovled the denial of a request for leave.

I doubt it happened, but if it did, life would be getting off easy.

Depends on how long you have control. If you run in, grab the wheel, and are immediately beaten to a pulp by the Marines*. “Grand Theft Aircraft Carrier**” and “Monumental Stupidity” don’t seem to be covered in the UCMJ, but best-case-scenario (based on “failure to obey regulations”, and there’s gotta be a rule against what the OP describes) is dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay, and 2 years in prison. I have a feeling they’d go for the maximum punishment on that type of thing.

If you have control long enough to constitute mutiny or sedition (most likely the latter), you’re screwed. Those, according to Article 94 of the UCMJ, are “punishable by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.” IANAL, but I suppose that means you might get life if you don’t hurt anybody and get a sympathetic judge.

If you manage to break the ship during your little joyride, that’s death too.

*BTW, “not trying to prevent mutiny” is equivalent to the act itself, so you most likely will be beaten to a pulp by whoever’s nearby.

**Well whaddaya know, it is covered! "© Military property of a value of more than $500.00 or of any military motor vehicle, aircraft, vessel, firearm, or explosive. Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 10 years. "

“…you’ll be locked up for quite some time, but probably not life.”

Grr. End of the sentence got lost in the shuffle when I put in the “Grand theft…” bit. Must actually read things on preview in addition to spelling/grammer proofing.


You could absolutely get life in prison. As pointed out above, you could also get death.

Believe it or not, there are still a few things you can do in the military that warrant you getting legally shot to death while out in the field or on deployment. eg sleeping on watch during a time of war, or im sure, Grand Theft Aircraft Carrier (very nice :).

Imagine the Nimitz pulling into San Diego Harbor. There isn’t a lot of leeway on either side and the engineroom is working hard alongside the tugs to make the tight turns and keep the ship on the straight and narrow. Obviously the only way you could ‘hijack’ the ship would be to forcefully take over the helmsman, and you would have to be armed. There is no peaceful way to just ‘kind of’ do it.

Death would be a lenient punishment.

Keep in mind:

  1. According to the story the guy did this from the auxillary control room not the bridge. There was no mention in the story about force being used. In fact, I don’t even know if auxillary control is always manned (although I suspect that it is during critical moments such as going into port).

Also, since you brought up the point are there any actual examples of capital punishment being used in the modern military? After all we only gave Aldrich Ames life, and he supposedly really damaged our national security big time (granted that’s the CIA not the military). Seems unfair that you can do what Ames did and only get life, while some poor sap who falls asleep (even on watch) get the firing squad. Then again, I always thought it was BS that the officers could just “resign their commission” (at least during peace time) and that the enlisted personnel had to finish out their terms or experience harsh consequences.

“Auxillary” is otherwise known as “aft steering” and the guy behind the controls is the “aft helmsman”. Same principle, and unless the guy himself did it or gave up control, force would have to be used. On most ships it is manned 24/7 by at least one watchstander.

I’ve never served on a carrier, so i’m just saying what I know to be true to ‘most ships’.

You will have to do research for your new question. I really don’t know.

On tthe ship I was on, there was an after steering compartment, One could disconnect the bridge helm and connect the after steering control. There were two people on watch, an enginman and deck seaman. I was not a deck seaman, but I stood the watch many times. The engineman had a habit of falling asleep and it would have been easy for me to do it.
The compartment was on the second deck (one deck below main deck) and had no port holes. There was a speaking tube. In theory there would be an officer on the main deck to give orders. By ones self one couldn’t see where one was going.
I don’t think going into port would have been possible even for a few minutes.

Desertion, wilful disobedience, abandonment of post, etc. are potentially capital in the theatre of war, but we have had exactly one execution for desertion since the Civil War, WW2 Pvt. Ed Slovik (others were sentenced but got commutations). Afterwards, military death sentences have been issued for “common criminal” offenses under UCMJ that would be capital in some US civilian courts (murder, aggravated rape, espionage etc.), the last one being in the early 60s. During the 80s there was a brief interruption in UCMJ capital offenses since a court found the rules that existed were unconstitutional. Under rewritten rules, there were 7 immates in military death row last January. Article .

Of course, shooting someone who has gone berserk, in order to retake control of the ship, is not considered an execution.

That factoid, widely spread after a 1974 award-winning movie ("The Execution of Private Slovik is a bit misleading. He was the last soldier executed by the US Military for desertion but over 100 US soldiers were court-martialed and executed after him, for crimes like rape and murder. I can’t give you an exact number, because each source I saw (reseaching this after an argument with a friend) had differing date or service restrictions that made it impossible to combine them accurately.

One example that comes to mind is Army Pvt. John Bennett (sp?), hanged for rape and attempted murder in 1961. I believe he was the last prisoner to be executed at Leavenworth. I don’t know where the miltary would execute someone today, but according the NAACP Defense fund, there are seven soldiers on the US Military’s death row today (5 blacks, one white, one asian - hence their interest)

Military procedures for capital punishment were held to be unconstitutional in the early 80s, but the Reagan administration reinstituted them, with changes,a year or two later. The military instituted a “milder alternative” of life without possibility of parole for crimes committed after 1997, suggesting that they considered execution (by lethal injection these days, IIRC) a valid and viable [if politically tricky] option in recent years.

Now you’ve done it. Now I have to refresh my memory on Google.

Sorry, I just noticed that JRDelerious. linked an article with some of the very facts I cited. I didn’t mean to pick on him, BTW. It’s just that I’ve heard that factoid many times in the past 25 year (especially in the years after the movie), and though it’s true as far as it goes, it leaves a misleading impression.

One example, listed in an article on a recently found ledger of ca. 200 ‘recent’ military executions (up to 1951) listed some interesting specifics that might apply to the original thread topic. e.g.

“Some are listed only by last name. Case number 315055 was ‘Norman,’ whose rank is listed as corporal, convicted of violating Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (disobeying an order or regulation) while in the ‘West Pacific’ in January 1947. Nothing more specific is mentioned about his offense, but the result is clear. He was sentenced to death, and the final entry behind his name, in the ‘remarks’ column, is ‘Executed (hanged).’”

This execution (after Slovik’s) illustrates the narrow scope of the Slovik factoid, and involves a charge that was proposed here for “Grand Theft Aircraft Carrier.”
According to reports, the US military recently constructed an execution chamber at Guantanamo. It might not be meant for US military personnel, but it suggests they don’t consider execution out of the question to this very day.

Army handbook on miltary execution procedures (1999)

My brother is a 1st Lt. in the Army, and he was just telling me a couple days ago that when he was a private in the National Guard, they made a point of scaring the little privates with the fact that officers could theoretically shoot them for even things like encouraging sentiment against the officer’s orders: “I think we should all surrender” during combat.

So during combat, I would someone trying to take over part of the Nimitz could very well be shot down. This assuming he’s doing something like waving a gun, which is what I think you would have to do to attempt this anyway.

I’m talking to him right now, and he says that in the army, just making yourself be perceived as a threat is going to get you shot. “Oh, heck yeah. Don’t wave your water gun at us at night.”

Instead of the “Nimitz,” is there any chance it was the Missouri, instead? I do remember when that happened.:smiley:

The Nimitz may have been sent off-course by a renegade crewman before careening back in time to December 6, 1941.

Having practiced (briefly) as a lawyer in the US Coast Guard, I can tell you:

  1. Legal-esque statements offered in training for the purpose of encouraging recruit behavior (“If you don’t wear your seatbelt, then your family gets no life insurance if you die,” “We can shoot you for X,” etc.) are generally not true.

  2. However, the military often ignores its own rules, and what is important is not whether your Lt. can legally shoot you for sedition, but whether he thinks he can.

  3. My recollection is that (according to SCOTUS) you must kill someone to receive the death penalty, but non-murder military offenses (desertion, espoinage in time of war) have not yet been tested.