World Aircraft Carriers List
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Carrier Fires

Three Disasters Afloat

During the 1960's, the US Navy suffered three serious fires aboard aircraft carriers. These photos depict those fires and their aftermath. The lessons learned from the fires are still taught in Navy damage control courses today, in the hope that these disasters are never repeated.

USS Oriskany (CVA 34), 26 October 1966

Oriskany was operating off Vietnam at the time of the fire. Two sailors were storing flares in a space at the starboard forward corner of the hangar deck. One of the flares lit accidentally, and the sailor threw it into the locker and closed the hatch. The locker contained 650 flares, which quickly lit. The resulting fire caused extensive damage to the ship and killed 44 men. The entire forward section of the ship from the hangar floor up was gutted.

 [THUMBNAIL] Oriskany burning, as seen from one of her escorts. Smoke pours from the forward section of the hangar deck as escorting ships race to assist firefighting efforts.

 [THUMBNAIL] The aftermath on deck. The exhausted crew takes a breather after the fire has been extinguished. Burnt-out and undamaged aircraft are clustered on the aft section of the flight deck, clear of the fire area.

USS Forrestal (CVA 59), 29 July 1967

Forrestal was operating off Vietnam at the time of the fire. A Zuni rocket was accidentally launched on deck (due to an electrical problem), hitting a parked A-4, and igniting its drop tank. The fire then spread to other aircraft, and bombs began to explode on deck. The fire burned for 13 hours, killed 134 crew and caused the loss of 21 aircraft, some of which were pushed overboard before the fire reached them. 7 holes were blown in the flight deck. Repairs took 7 months, requiring complete removal and reconstruction of the aft section of the ship down to the hangar floor. This was the worst carrier fire in postwar years. The ship has carried the nickname "Forrest Fire" ever since. Films shot during the fire are still show in the course of basic training for all sailors.

 [THUMBNAIL] The aft section of the ship is engulfed in smoke and fire, as seen from an escorting ship. The destroyer USS Rupertus (DD 851) comes alongside to aid in firefighting.

 [THUMBNAIL] A ruined 5 inch gun is hoisted out of the ship during repairs. The guns were sent to the scrappers and eventually were replaced by missiles.

USS Enterprise (CVAN 65), 14 January 1969

Enterprisewas operating off Hawaii at the time. The sequence of events was similar to the Forrestal fire, starting with a rocket overheating due to exhaust from a flight deck vehicle and "cooking off". The rocket hit another aircraft, which ignited and touched off a flight deck disaster. The fire was put out within 4 hours. Damage, although severe, was less extensive than that caused by Forrestal fire. The nuclear "frigate" USS Bainbridge was one of Enterprise's escorts, and according to one of her sailors she vastly surpassed her rated speed of "30+" knots while racing to the carrier's aid. The next day the frigate escorted the carrier into Pearl Harbor, and the atmosphere was said to be not unlike prevailing mood when the previous USS Enterprise (CV 6) returned to Pearl Harbor the day after the Japanese attack.

 [THUMBNAIL] Flames envelop the ship's stern as the fire rages uncontrolled.

 [THUMBNAIL] Aircraft burning furiously on deck before crews can attack the flames.

 [THUMBNAIL] The ship's crew and an escorting destroyer attack the flight deck blaze. USS Rogers (DD 876) lies alongside the carrier to assist, while another escort arrives on scene.

 [THUMBNAIL] Firefighting crews push aft past burnt-out aircraft, extinguishing the fire.

 [THUMBNAIL] The aftermath of the disaster, seen soon after the fire was extinguished and before flight operations resumed.

The World Aircraft Carrier Lists
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Copyright © 1995-2003 by Andrew Toppan
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