A Social Network for Navy Veterans of the United States of America
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.
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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