Viewed from 500 feet up in a small Cessna, the vessel plowing across the ocean below looked like a tug towing a barge. But upon closer inspection, pilot Ken Kaltman recognized the distinctive low profile of a sleek black submarine.
"We were a little bit shocked to see it out there, to be honest," he said. "We thought it was a little bit unusual."
Only mildly unusual. It's no secret that submarines are often sighted off Port Everglades Inlet, where the Navy maintains the South Florida Ocean Measurement facility, an offshore military testing ground.
Kaltman, 67, Delray Beach, later learned as much. "We were told they occasionally have sub sightings in that area, so I didn't think that much about it," he said.
Kaltman and his co-pilot, Bill Malkemes, were flying in his private plane from Hollywood to Lantana on a quick pleasure jaunt. They were flying low and about a mile and a half offshore from Port Everglades when they spotted the sub. They circled it and took photos.
"It was pretty exciting, actually," Kaltman said.
Mike Crochet, a former Navy submarine officer and principal analyst with IHS Aerospace and Defense Forecasting, owner of Jane's Fighting Ships, identified the vessel as a Virginia-class Navy submarine.
"U.S. submarines frequently surface off the coast of Florida," he said.
The Navy doesn't discuss local submarine activity, or acknowledge specific vessel locations. But nautical charts show a restricted area about four miles east of the port. Buoys are sometimes set out during exercises and the Navy will broadcast warnings over VHF marine radio.
The offshore maneuvers involve mine countermeasure training and the testing of unmanned underwater vehicles. The South Florida Ocean Measurement Facility encompasses a network of undersea cables and detection devices used to determine the acoustical and electromagnetic characteristics of different ships.
Capt. Courtney Day, owner of Cape Ann Towing, figured the sub Kaltman saw was undergoing tests at the facility.
"They're doing an exercise offshore, that's kind of typical," he said. He heard that a submarine called at Port Everglades over the weekend for a crew change, witnessed by thousands of cruise ship passengers -- and their ever-present cellphone cameras.
But sub sightings have become more rare in recent years, Day said. "We used to have a lot more subs here in the '90s."
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