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22NOV1975 flight ops off the coast NW coast of Sicily. It is just a few minutes past 2200 we have just heard the evening prayer from the Chaplain, and the collision alarm starts sounding. The USS John F Kennedy suddenly rocks sharply to the starboard side. The GQ alarm is sounding. I am 18 yrs. old and aboard my first ship for just 3 weeks. My GQ station is REPAIR 3, the after mess-decks. "Time Plus 4, set ZEBRA". Somehow the USS Belknap CTG-26 has collided with us. Many lives were lost that night. Many injuries were sustained. I was assigned to 2nd Div in the Deck Dept. and was an investigator. I went below through many decks to find damage. I found none and returned to 2nd deck repair 3. Upon opening the hatch I was handed an OBA and canister to light off. We were starting to fill with smoke. The team shut off more ventilation and setup red-devil blowers to clear it all by the time my OBA was burning. "All dressed up and no where to go." Don't you believe it. I was snatched by the Fire Marshall with a few others and we took off for investigator stuff and hose teams on the port side 03 level. Most of the smoke was from the burning exterior of the ship around the catwalks of the flight deck. There were also storage areas around the port sponsons and the motor whale boat burning. The flight deck was extinguished within the first 10 minutes. It was a very long night. We were at GQ for 12 hours before we secured and set re-flash watches. We had only one fatality on 'Big John" that night. I believe the Belknap lost 8. Time in the water before hypothermia was only 10 minutes. The HELO's pick those men up very quickly. The Belknap was so engulfed in flames topside that these firefighter jumped overboard as they exited the skin of the ship to battle the flames. I was 52 years old in May. I still have vivid memories of it all. I told my 20 year old son who report for Basic training to be certain to understand what is going on in Damage Control and Fire Fighting School. I appears it was the first thing I needed to call on seriously immediately following training.

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My name is Tony Haselden. I was an AE2 in VS21 attached to the JFK when this happened. I worked in AIMD VAST shop. Yes, I remember it well. We thought we had run over a sub or something. GQ kind of stuck us in our working space which was all the way forward on the hanger deck and hanging from the overhead in an added on work space. Good thing we had lots of pineapple stashed in our workspace. I still have the telegram that was sent home to my parents letting them know that I was ok. I also have stashed somewhere the front page article that came out in my hometown (St. Petersburg, Florida) newspaper telling the tale. I had been in the Navy for five years at that time. May Davy Jones be good to ya, Tony
I would like to hear many others stories. I was a SA a couple weeks out of boot camp, and reported on-board in Naples just before we pulld out for those OPS. I recall the spaces forward where you guys were at. I have stories about investigating in heavy smoke compartments on the 03 level port side. I believe this was air-dale berthing(?). It was an interesting evolution to rig and paint Big John's hull from the flight deck to the water line. I can tell a few tales about how we did that. Ultimately I felt lucky that I was in 2nd div. because we worked 0600 - 1800. It was manageable weather, but 1st div. painted from 1800 -0600 and it was damned cold! My time with 2nd Div. was tumultuous to say the least. There were two different occasions were more than a few of us were nearly killed on UNREP rigs. Sea Stories!
Went to sea with VS21 on the first S3A deployment to sea on Big John 1975. I worked in A.I.M.D. IM3 Division. I was aboard when the USS Belknap crashed into us amid ship port side about 10:00 pm Med time. November 22nd 1975 the same day JFK was shot in Dallas. That one made me think for awhile. It was very sad because of the loss of life that night. But the Big John came home finally. I remember the AP said we got the fires out in a very short time and we remember we were still fighting fires at that time. I remember a friend of mine was making his way down a passage way in knee deep water and he tripped just as he was coming up to a dogged down hatch. He fell toward the hatch and caught himself with his hand on it. He said the heat from the door burned right through his gloves. He said he was so scared at that point when he got back to the shop he said he was not sure we were going to make it. We were all lock in our shops not knowing much but hearing the 1MC was not a good thing to hear all night. But many brave Fire Teams and Damage Control Party's saved us.
Yes, I recall the Chaplain finishing the evening prayer at taps which was 2200. It couldn 't have been but 2 or 3 minutes later when the collision alarm started sounding. I was quite scared when the fire marshal took a few of us up to the 03 level somewhere on the port side. There was a small Orlando hatch with very thick black smoke just billowing out of it. A BM3 and myself (SA at the time) entered to investigate, and BM3 Martinusek reported it was coming from another space through the ventilation system. We were on and off a few hose teams through the night. In my memory we set reflash watches about 11 hours after GQ sounded, and secured from GQ at about 12 hours later. I do not recall the kids name that died aboard Big John. He reported to the ship the same day. He apparently got lost on the way the GQ in a smoke filled area. Word was if had had fallen down the ladder where they found him he might have survived due to clear air on the next level. It is absolutely amazing how very large a late 20th/ early 21st century bird farm is. It is also amazing how small they become when they are on fire.

Thanks for vivid account, John.  Only heard about this accident but never knew the details.

Bobby Todaro Plank Owner

CVA-67   '68 - '70

 I too was in VS-21 for the 1975 cruise. A the time of the collision, I was an AME-2. I was in the shop/ squadron paraloft on the 03 level across the passageway from the ready room at the time. When the alarm was sounded along with "fire on the flight deck", two of made an attempt to make it out onto the catwalk. The fire was coming in through the Zebra door but I was able to dog it down safely. We had to cross to the starboard side to  go up to the flight deck but as a tribute to Navy firefighting training the fire was under control by the time we got there. It was a hectic night but we fared well. The Belknap on the other hand did not. Again, thanks to D C and shipboard firefighting training and along with a great deal of bravery on the part of both the Belknap and Rickets crews, it could have been much worse.

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