Week of July 30
On July 29, 1967 the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59) was on Yankee Station in the Biển Đông (South China Sea) off the coast of North Vietnam. Her crew was preparing a second strike of the day against enemy targets. The ship had more than 5,000 men aboard, and 27 aircraft were on the flight deck, fueled and loaded with ordnance, some starting their engines.
At 10:50 a.m., local time, an electrical fault in an F-4 Phantom caused a rocket to fire. Before it went overboard, it struck a crewman and an A-4 Skyhawk's wing-mounted drop tank. The impact from the rocket caused two 1,000 pound bombs to be released onto the deck. The rocket's exhaust ignited fuel that poured from the ruptured tank. The fire caused other tanks on the A-4 to crack. Immediately, Forrestal Damage Control Team 8, led by Chief Petty Officer G.W. Farrier responded. They tried their best to cool the weapons and assist the pilots on deck, but they had little time to act. There were Korean War "Composition B" bombs also on the flight deck, known to become unstable during a long storage. This caused them to be less resistant to the fire.
A minute and a half after the fire started, a bomb exploded. The explosion killed Chief Farrier, 26 other damage control men, and at least one pilot. Still, firehose teams pressed on. Nine minutes later, a second bomb exploded, engulfing ten more aircraft in flames. A total of nine bombs exploded, tearing holes in the armored port quarter of the flight deck. Directly below the flight deck, 41 crew members were killed in their berthing areas as the blasts penetrated three levels of the carrier. Automatic systems in the hangar deck controlled the flames and explosions that entered there. Crews continued to work through dense smoke to disarm threatened aircraft. Many crewmen, without specialized training, joined damage control parties to fight fires, dispose of threatened ordnance, and rescue shipmates.
The fires on the flight deck fire under control by 11:47 a.m. and were extinguished thirty minutes later. The fires below deck were not fully extinguished until 4:00 a.m. the next morning. The final extent of the fires, explosions, and damage resulted in the loss of 134 lives, 161 injured sailors, and 21 aircraft damaged beyond repair or destroyed. The survival of the USS Forrestal and its crew served as a tribute to the dedication and determination of its crew to save their shipmates and their ship.1
1Henry Stewart (2004). The Impact of the USS Forrestal's 1967 Fire on United States Navy Shipboard Damage Control (Master's Thesis, United States Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth, KS, 2008) pp. 2-4, 36-8, 91 ; Edward J. Marolda, Ready Seapower: A History of the U.S. Seventh Fleet (Wash DC: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2012), pp. x, 61; "The Forrestal Fire," http://www.navy.mil/navydata/nav_legacy.asp?id=73 (accessed 4/8/14); Spencer C. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2011), pp. 27, 379; NavSource Online: Aircraft Carrier Photo Archive, The Forrestal Fire, found 7/23/2015 at http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/cv-59/59f-0729.htm.