If you’ve ever been on an aircraft carrier flight deck during flight operations, you’ve been up close to one of the most intricate and dangerous environments in the world. A wrong move or momentary lapse of attention can cause fatal accidents, to say nothing of equipment failures or just bad luck. On July 27, 1967, a fire erupted on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal, during combat flight ops in the western Pacific.
Forrestal arrived on Yankee Station on July 25 and immediately began combat operations, her aircraft flying 150 sorties during the next 4 days, without the loss of a single aircraft. At 10:52 A.M. on July 29, the second launch was being readied when a Zuni rocket accidentally fired from an F-4 Phantom parked on the starboard side of the flight deck aft of the island. The missile streaked across the deck into a 400 gallon belly fuel tank on a parked A-4D Skyhawk. The ruptured tank spew highly flammable JP-5 fuel onto the deck which ignited spreading flames over the flight deck under other fully loaded aircraft ready for launch. The ensuing fire caused ordinance to explode and other rockets to ignite. Spread by the wind, the flames engulfed the aft end of the stricken ship turning the flight deck into a blazing inferno.. Berthing spaces immediately below the flight deck became death traps for fifty men, while other crewmen were blown overboard by the explosion.
So I’m at one of the many local Starbucks today enjoying a million calorie orange creme frappuccino, and ended up sitting next to a man who was once stationed on the Forrestal and who is currently working on a documentary about the fire. Here’s a clip from that doc, which is in the rough cut stage.
The film is called USS Forrestal: The Burning Ballet.