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The Forrestal Fire: A Look Back

The 1967 USS Forrestal fire was the worst of three fires aboard aircraft carriers stationed in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s. The other two were a 1966 fire aboard the USS Oriskany (182 killed or injured) and a 1969 fire aboard the USS Enterprise (342 killed or injured). These three disasters prompted the Navy to revise its firefighting and construction policies. Carriers began using PFAS-laced firefighting foam, and shipbuilders used more asbestos.

To prevent fires from spreading, shipbuilders started using asbestos all over ships, not just in boiler rooms and ammunition dumps. Shipbuilders also laced floor and ceiling tiles with asbestos. The increased use led to increased illnesses, such as mesothelioma, among Navy veterans and shipbuilders. Mesothelioma has about a fifty-year latency period. Therefore, many veterans who served in the 1970s are just now getting sick, which means they just now need the services of a nationwide asbestos exposure lawyer.

Prelude to the Fire

The U.S. Navy’s intensive Vietnam bombing campaign in the 1960s created a shortage of newer, safer, and more reliable ordnance. The day before the fire, the Forrestal took on a load of bombs that used Composition B (comp b), an older explosive with greater shock and heat sensitivity. Making matters worse, the ammunition ship that supplied the Forrestal came from the Philippines, where the high heat and humidity further degraded the bombs.

Some members of the flight crew were reportedly afraid to handle the unstable bombs. Captain John Beling reluctantly took delivery of the Korean War-era bombs but, as they were needed for the next day's sorties, ultimately chose to accept them.

A board of inquiry later absolved Captain Beling, along with everyone else aboard the Forrestal that day, of any responsibility for the fire. However, Belong was reassigned, and many of his superiors, most notably Admiral Ephraim P. Holmes, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, blamed him for the disaster.

What Happened?

A bizarre and unfortunate chain of events created the fire that killed 134 sailors and seriously injured 161 others.

Electrical problems aboard an A-4 Phantom caused its rockets to fire. The rocket hit another jet, rupturing the fuel tank. But the situation wasn’t catastrophic until a Composition B bomb ignited the jet fuel that had spread over the flight deck. The fire incinerated two hose teams and killed many pilots who couldn’t get out of their jets fast enough.

Future Senator John McCain got out of his plane, saw another pilot on fire, and turned to help him when the first bomb detonated. The explosion hurled him ten feet through the air, and he was also wounded by shrapnel.

The explosions tore seven holes in the flight deck. About 40,000 gallons of burning jet fuel from ruptured aircraft tanks poured through holes in the deck and into the aft hangar bay and berthing compartments. The explosions and fire killed 50 night crew personnel who were sleeping in their bunks. 41 additional crew members were killed in internal compartments in the aft portion of the ship.

The Aftermath

Officials probably thought they were doing the right thing when they ordered more asbestos. Back then, the asbestos cover-up was in full effect, and the health risks weren’t widely known outside certain circles.

An asbestos exposure lawyer cannot bring back the sailors who died in the Forrestal fire. A lawyer can obtain the compensation that asbestos exposure victims need and deserve.

Work With a Diligent Attorney

Mesothelioma victims need and deserve significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced nationwide mesothelioma lawyer, contact the Throneberry Law Group. The sooner you reach out to us, the sooner we start working for you.

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