July 29, 1967 (Saturday)
The tragic fire began with the accidental launching of a Zuni rocket from a F-4B Phantom aircraft. This rocket launch was not the result of error on the part of the crew. The rocket streaked across the flight deck and struck the external fuel tank of an A-4E Skyhawk aircraft, spilling volatile aviation fuel across the flight deck. Within five seconds the fuel ignited, spreading under other aircraft loaded with ordnance and fueled for the second launch of that morning. Huge clouds of black smoke billowed three hundred feet into the air. Scores of flight deck personnel rushed to contain the spread of the flames from reaching thirteen adjoining aircraft all loaded with ordnance. In one minute and thirty-four seconds after the fire started, the first 1000 lb. bomb exploded. Flying shrapnel tore into other aircraft, ruptured more fuel tanks, and spread lakes of flaming aviation fuel over the deck. In a period of four minutes, seven major high order explosions shook the entire ship ripping seven huge holes through the thick armored steel flight deck with some reaching through the ship to the water line. Countless high and low order detonations continued. Some 40,000 gallons of jet plane fuel leaking from punctured aircraft fuel tanks, spread into holes ripped through the deck, spreading flames to many compartments far below the flight deck. Courageous fire fighting teams, officers, and enlisted men were knocked down, injured, or killed by the series of explosions. Rockets, missiles, and 20 mm shells shot across the flight deck, and ejection seats fired into the air. Twelve minutes after the last major explosion, but with minor explosions continuing, flight deck directors moved aircraft from near the island super structure while fire fighting teams kept the fire from advancing farther forward. Aircraft, some still in flames, were jettisoned in an effort to keep the fire from spreading. Fires continued out of control in the after part of the ship far into the night. Finally the fire was extinguished at 0400, 30 July 1967. Heroic crewmembers risked life and limb to battle the blaze, rescue fellow crewmembers and save their ship.
The crew of over 5,000 men saved their ship. One Hundred Thirty-four crewmembers made the supreme sacrifice. One hundred sixty-one men were injured with sixty-four personnel sustaining severe injuries.
Steaming as a unit of Attack Carrier Striking Group 77.6 in company with the USS Rupertus (DD-851) and USS Henry W. Tucker (DD- 875) on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin, sixty miles off the coast of North Vietnam on course 090 at 12 knots. Senior Officer Afloat is Commander Attack Carrier Striking Group 77.6, Rear Admiral Harvey P. Lanham embarked in Forrestal as Commander Attack Carrier Striking Group composed of USS Forrestal, USS Rupertus, with Commander Destroyer Division Thirty-Two embarked, and USS Henry W. Tucker. Tactical Officer in Command is Captain John K. Beling. Destroyers in screen 3C2 with USS Henry W. Tucker in station one and USS Rupertus in station two. Boilers 1B, 2A, 2B, 4A, 4B and Generators 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 are on the line. General Condition of Readiness III and Material Condition Yoke are set throughout the ship.
|0513||USS Forrestal secured from man overboard, USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-875) and USS Rupertus (DD-851) continuing man overboard search.|
|0544||USS Rupertus (DD-851) secured from man overboard search, rejoins USS Forrestal.|
|0600||Commenced combat air operations. Alpha strike, 37 aircraft.|
|0749||Forrestal completes launching her Alpha Strike.|
|0914||Completed recovering Alpha strike, all aircraft returning.|
|1034||Commenced launching two KA-3B Skywarrior aircraft.|
|1048||Launched KA-3B Skywarrior from catapult #2.|
|1049||Launched EA-1F Skyraider from catapult #1.|
|1050||E-2A Hawkeye spotted on Cat #1, KA-3B Skywarrior spotted on Cat #2.|
|1052||Zuni rocket accidentally launches, striking
an A-4E Skyhawk spotted on port side. Fuel of center line fuel tank begins leaking. Fuel tank
erupts. Called away fire parties to man fog foam stations.
Called away General Quarters. All hands manning General Quarters stations, setting material condition Zebra throughout the ship.
Forrestal fire as viewed from flight deck.
|1053.26||First 1,000-pound bomb explodes.|
|1053.36||Second and third 1,000-pound bombs explode.|
|1054.18||Fourth 1,000-pound bomb explodes.|
|1054.20||Missile streaks forward.|
|1055||Helicopter Angle 20 of HS-1, USS Oriskany (CVA-34) recovers first USS Forrestal crewmen from water.|
|1056||USS Oriskany (CVA-34) maneuvering to close on USS Forrestal.|
|1057||USS George K. Mac Kenzie (DD-836) maneuvering at 27 knots closing on USS Forrestal.|
|1102||USS Rupertus places motor whale boat in water, maneuvering to close on USS Forrestal.|
|1105||Helo Angle 20 recovers three more USS Forrestal survivors from water.|
|1108||Detonations have ceased. Movement of aircraft away from island commences.|
|1112||USS Rupertus (DD-851) maneuvering to take station on port quarter of USS Forrestal.|
|1114||USS Forrestal speed 7 knots.|
|1115||USS Forrestal commenced requesting medical assistance. USS Rupertus maneuvered to starboard quarter of USS Forrestal.|
|1117||All USS Forrestal crewmen trapped by smoke are instructed to move forward via hangar bay or second deck passageways.|
|1118||Helicopter Angle 20 recovered another USS Forrestal survivor, ammunition, equipment, and burning aircraft.|
|1120||USS Forrestal informed crew to take injured to forecastle for treatment.|
Forrestal fire as viewed from miles away. (Larger image submitted by Alex Tatchin.)
|1124||Captain Beling ordered all badly damaged aircraft to be pushed over the side.|
|1126||Recovered helo from USS Oriskany with medical assistance. Rocket magazine on port side 03 level is flooded to prevent further explosions.|
|1128||Detonation from aircraft along starboard side aft of elevator throws aircraft parts toward advancing fire fighters.|
|1129||USS Rupertus directing fire hoses on starboard aft flight deck, and two burning aircraft. USS George K. Mac Kenzie embarked three USS Forrestal survivors.|
|1133||Two helicopters from USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) proceeding to rescue USS Forrestal survivors from water.|
|1135||USS Rupertus (DD-851) directing fire hoses on hangar bay three areas.|
|1139||Five USS Forrestal men reported in water starboard side.|
|1141||USS Rupertus (DD-851) maneuvering clear of USS Forrestal's starboard side.|
|1142||Fires out on two burning aircraft on starboard side.|
|1144||USS Rupertus maneuvering to take station on USS Forrestal's port quarter.|
|1146||Intense fire reported in compartment at port quarter 01 and 02 level. USS George K. Mac Kenzie sights survivors in water.|
|1151||All ordnance on second deck bomb assembly area has been stowed in magazines.|
|1154||USS George K. Mac Kenzie embarked three USS Forrestal survivors.|
|1155||USS George K. Mac Kenzie proceeding alongside USS Forrestal to assist in fire fighting.|
|1158||One RA-5C Vigilante jettisoned from angled deck forward.|
|1200||Two USS Forrestal crewmen observed falling overboard.|
|1203||USS Rupertus maneuvering to maintain position on USS Forrestal's port quarter.|
|1204||USS Oriskany commenced lowering both motor whaleboats into water. USS Oriskany maintaining station 3,000 yards off USS Forrestal's starboard quarter.|
|(Left) NS025916c.– This is a rare photo
in that it shows, in the same frame, USS Forrestal (CVA‑59); USS Rupertus (DD-851); and helo Childplay
Angel 20, from HC-1 "Pacific Fleet Angels" Det. G, USS Oriskany (CVA-34).
Several crewmen who had been blown overboard from Forrestal were rescued from the water
by Angel 20, pilot LT David E. Clement, ENS Leonard M. Eiland, Jr., Aviation Machinist's Mate
James O. James, and Airman Albert Barrows. (Thanks to Ken V. Killmeyer, Fire,
Fire, Fire on the Flight Deck Aft; This Is Not a Drill.)
Photo submitted by Jeff Guidry, for his uncle Steve Guidry, who served in V-3 Division in 1967 aboard Oriskany.
|U.S. Navy photograph.||Photos above submitted by Robert M. Cieri.|
|(Above) NS025916.– The skipper of the destroyer USS Rupertus (DD-851), in what Rear Adm. Harvey P. Lanham, ComCarDiv Two, called an act of "magnificent seamanship," maneuvers his ship to within 20 feet of USS Forrestal (CVA-59) so fire hoses could be effectively used on the worst fire aboard a U.S. carrier. More than 130 crew were killed in the blaze 29 July 1967 off the coast of Vietnam.|
|1209||USS George K. Mac Kenzie maintaining station on USS Forrestal's starboard quarter.||
NS025924 (above) & NS025928 (below.)
Photos submitted by Alex Tatchin
|1214||USS Rupertus alongside port quarter of USS Forrestal.|
|1215||USS Forrestal reports fire on flight deck out. USS George K. Mac Kenzie reports sighting survivors in water. USS Henry W. Tucker proceeding at 28 knots to join USS Forrestal. USS Samuel N. Moore (DD-747) directed to search for survivors.|
|1216||Nine USS Forrestal survivors reported in water.|
|1218||USS Bon Homme Richard conducting search for survivors of USS Forrestal.|
|1225||USS Rupertus concentrating hoses on after port five-inch gun mount and below.|
|1229||USS George K. Mac Kenzie alongside USS Forrestal's starboard side.|
|1245||Stubborn fires remain on 01, 02, levels Hangar Bay Three.|
|1254||Two major fires reported aft on port and starboard sides.|
|1309||USS Rupertus maneuvering to clear USS Forrestal.|
|1311||USS Rupertus commenced to form up search line for survivors.|
|1335||USS George K. Mac Kenzie maneuvering from USS Forrestal's fantail area to Hangar Bay Three area.|
|1342||USS Forrestal reports fires under control.|
|1343||USS George K. Mac Kenzie breaking off from USS Forrestal to recover her whaleboat.|
|1348||USS Forrestal reports fires in the 01, 02, and 03 level still burn, but that all machinery and steering is operational.|
|1349||USS Henry W. Tucker proceeding to join search for USS Forrestal survivors. USS Rupertus maneuvering to investigate debris in water for survivors.|
|1412||USS Forrestal reports after radio compartment evacuated. All fires extinguished on 01 level.|
|1445||USS Forrestal reports fire in Hangar Bay Three out.|
|1447||USS Forrestal reports compartment fires continue, but progress is being made. USS Forrestal commenced steaming to rendezvous with hospital ship USS Repose (AH-16).|
NS025925.– Crewmen work feverishly to remove external fuel tanks and ordnance from burning an RA-5C Vigilante and other aircraft on the after section of USS Forrestal (CVA-59) during the worst fire aboard any US carrier. One hundred thirty-four crew were killed in the blaze on 29 July 1967 off the coast of Vietnam.
U.S. Navy photo.
NS025915a.– The crew of USS Forrestal (CVA-59) extinguishes the remaining fires on the flight deck off the coast of Vietnam, 29 July 1967. In the foreground are the remains of an F-4B Phantom, behind which can be seen the burned hulk of a second Phantom. One hundred thirty-four crew died in this fire, the worst aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
U.S. Navy photo.
NS025915.– Crew members fight a series of fires and explosions on the carrier's after flight deck, in the Gulf of Tonkin, 29 July 1967. The conflagration took place as heavily-armed and fueled aircraft were being prepared for combat missions over North Vietnam.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph (# USN 1124794) in the collections of the Naval Historical Center.
|1510||USS Forrestal reports fire on starboard quarter.||
NS025929.– This diagram was taken from a drawing provided by USS Forrestal and shows the location of CVW-17 aircraft spotted for launch moments before the fire broke out. From "Naval Aviation News," October 1967 issue.
|1550||Commander Task Force 77 announced he is sending USS Forrestal to Subic Bay after USS Forrestal joins up with USS Repose.|
|1600||Holes cut in flight deck to allow fire hoses into 03 level compartments. Chlorine gas reported on 03 level starboard side at frame 214.|
|1639||USS Forrestal speed 20 knots.|
|1800||USS Forrestal speed 27 knots.|
|1844||USS Forrestal reports fires still burning.|
|1900||USS Forrestal speed 10 knots. Fire reported in compartment 03-222 starboard and port sides.|
|1907||Fire in compartment 02-210-1-L out of control.|
|1920||USS George K. Mac Kenzie proceeding to port quarter of USS Forrestal to affect fog foam and OBA Canisters.|
|2030||USS Forrestal reports fires on 02 and 03 levels are contained, but the area is still too hot to enter.|
|2033||USS Forrestal reports fires on 02 level are under control but fire fighting is greatly hampered by smoke and heat.|
|2054||USS Forrestal reports only fires on 02 level port side are still burning.|
|2141||USS Forrestal reports radio contact with USS Repose.|
|2253||USS Forrestal commenced transferring deceased and injured personnel to USS Repose.|
|2258||Forrestal commences maneuvering on various courses and speeds while maintaining station astern of Repose.|
|2306||Forrestal assumes tactical command of USS Bausell (DD-845).|
NS025926.– Grimy and exhausted, crewmen of USS Forrestal and her airwing continue firefighting efforts in the aftermath of the blaze that killed 134 of their shipmates 29 July 1967. The ship was on station off the coast of Vietnam. In the background are what remains of a row of F-4B Phantoms that were parked along the starboard stern quarter.
U.S. Navy photo.
NS025927.– Firefighters check the burned out hulk of an A-4E Skyhawk [from VA-106 "Gladiators"] destroyed in the worst fire aboard a US aircraft carrier. The fire erupted aboard USS Forrestal on 29 July 1967 as the carrier was on station off Vietnam and killed 134 of the ship's crew and airwing.
U.S. Navy photo.
|(Left) The aft, starboard pair of 5"/54 gun mounts as
seen in April–May 1964, during New York City World's Fair (John N. Adriani Sr. Collection.)
(Right) A view of the same area, after the July 1967 fire (Ken Killmeyer, USS Forrestal Association.)
|Photos submitted by GS-12 Philip Creasor|
RVAH-11 (NAESU Rep)
1,000-pound bomb damage.
Aft port side.
Battery locker hole.
Remains of an F-4B Phantom.
SH-2A Sea Sprite helicopter tail.
Jet Test Cell damage.
Looking down a hole.
|Photos submitted by Bob Canchola, BT,
USS Oriskany (CV-34), 1971–1973
Forrestal's flight deck.
Forrestal as seen from Oriskany, several miles away. Duane Thomas Colman says: "I took this picture, changed film, got half way thru the next roll and the MPs confiscated it, but I still have that one shot."
Forrestal on fire, as seen from Oriskany, several miles away.
|(See also photo NS0234ce.)|
Forrestal as seen from USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31), several miles away. Richard L. Brenner took the photo and comments: "That is the Forrestal burning. That is the closest we got. I took this from the flight deck of the Bonnie Dick. I was a Plane Captain in VA-212."
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|USS Forrestal (CVA-59 / CV-59 / AVT-59)
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