On This Day…

Forrestal Disaster

July 29, 1967

Fire on USS Forrestal kills 134 people. While the ship was preparing to launch attacks on Vietnam, a rocket from one of its own F-4 Phantom jet fighters accidentally launched and struck several parked A-4 Skyhawk jets which were waiting to take off. One of the parked Skyhawks was piloted by John McCain, the future U.S. senator from Arizona. The fuel from the Skyhawks spilled onto the ship’s deck and caught fire. Compounding the disaster were the presence of outdated and volatile bombs that began exploding in the fire. Some of the bombs dated back to 1953 and had been stored on the deck, as it was felt they were too unstable to store with the rest of the ordnance.
It was determined by investigators that a surge in the jet’s electrical system caused its rocket to fire. This would have been prevented had proper safety procedures been followed. A pigtail that allowed the rocket to fire was not supposed to be installed until the jet was ready for launch. However, it had been installed earlier in order to speed up the launch procedure. It is also believed that a second safety device, that also would have prevented the rocket launch, had blown off due to high winds.