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Personal account of the USS Forrestal fire, July 29, 1967

"I was the pilot of an A-4E Skyhawk on the port side aft. As I started my engine, I heard a 'whoosh' and I saw a low-order explosion in front of me. I didn't see what the primary cause was since I had my head down in the cockpit, turning on various electronics equipment. I looked up immediately and saw the two A-4s in front of the plane engulfed in flames and JP-5 fluid spreading pools in front of the aircraft. I saw a 1,000-pound bomb roll off the aircraft and roll about six feet back toward the middle of the flight deck and the bomb was resting in the pool of the burning JP-5 fluid. The flames were spreading rapidly moving with the wind on the deck. I began making preparations to exit the aircraft. I shut down the engine and at the time I had the impression that a 20mm cannon shell had exploded in the aircraft. I don't think this was the case, however. I saw one man covered with flames blowing toward the center of the flight deck from the edge of the planes and I watched him making efforts to beat out the flames on his body. Two men rushed out on my right from the starboard side of the flight deck. Two boys from VA-106 and another yellow jersey came from the forward end of the ship and the three men began to drag the man from the vicinity of the fire and take his clothes off and put the firs tout. The fire was increasing in intensity and spreading as the wind blew the fuel aft and in a few moments a large fireball erupted in the vicinity of the 1,000-pound bomb and engulfed my aircraft! I exited the aircraft over the starboard side and proceeded under the tail of the two A-4s on my right on the fantail and went forward on the flight deck just in front of a line of Phantoms (F-4Bs) that were spotted along the starboard side.

"I saw two of the pilots to my left, while I was still in my plane, still in theirs. One had his canopy closed and the other one, I'm not sure. I went about one or two hundred feet when a very large blast knocked me up against the side of the fighter on my right. I regained my feet and continued on my way past number four elevator and was going around a Vigilante (RA-5C) when another explosion knocked me to my knees. I got up and continued forward and went around the aft of the island. When I observed the first explosion, I saw two men who were running aft with fire hoses taking the full blast. I believe they were killed instantly. After reaching the relative safety of the starboard side of the island, I observed a very badly burned man being helped by another injured man. I helped take the badly burned man down to the first deck. Two other men then took the burned man forward to sick bay and I reported to the ready room."

Statement from LCdr. Robert "Bo" Browning, a member of VA-106 deployed aboard USS Forrestal (CVA 59). Text and photos courtesy of the National Museum of Naval Aviation Library, Pensacola, Florida.

The fire killed 134 personnel. Accounts appear on page 8 in the November 1967 issue of All Hands, the October 1967 issue of Naval Aviation News, and the August 11, 1967 issue of Life, which had a cover story entitled "Inferno at Sea." Click on the images below to see a larger version.

Image of flight-deck fire aboard USS Forrestal Image of flight-deck fire aboard USS Forrestal

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