Mishaps in the Pacific
Created On: 05/28/2018
Edited By Jonblair On: 05/28/2018
The US Navy announced it had dismissed the commander of the 7th fleet after the collision incident involving the USS John McCain, the second deadly accident in the Pacific in just two months for a total of four accidents since late January. I can tell you from personal experience that even absent collisions at sea or engagement with enemy combatants, life aboard Navy ships involve certain inherit risks simply due to the nature of their mission and daily activities. I served aboard several ships during my 21 year career, including a Carrier, where alertness was critical if you wanted to avoid injury (or death). We were conducting routine operations in the South China Sea one weather pleasant day, and I was supervising a crew of four as we manually loaded Sparrow Missiles (approximately 400 lbs.) using hoisting bars into one of two honeycombed launchers. We rotated the port and starboard launchers180 degrees to face the flight deck as we walked the missile backward after lifting it from a missile skid, two of us on a forward hoisting bar (one on each side) and the other two on the rear hoisting bar; the rail the missile would be secured to was extended slightly outside the cell we were loading so that the missile could be attached in tongue and groove fashion to that particular rail, at which time we secured the mechanical and electrical connections, followed by retracting the rail with the attached and connected missile back into the launcher's cell. I would subsequently arm the rocket motor and warhead of each missile through an access port in the launcher; we would repeat this scenario until all eight cells on both launchers were fully loaded. On this particular day we were engaged in our usual fashion, walking the missile backward toward the launcher to load, when, without warning, one of the hoisting bar arms held by one of the forward crew snapped/broke completely in half, resulting in the missile dropping nose first to the flight deck with a sickening, surreal, our lives are over, "THUD." We all looked at each other, "are we still alive? You mean this thing did not explode and kill the four of us and everybody else within the missile's kill radius?" Fortunately the warhead is not located in the nose, but in the missile's mid-section, so it did not bear the brunt of the impact from the drop. After a moment of incredulous thought (and only a moment) we removed the other hoisting bar, the four of us picked-up the missile like it was a worn out telephone pole, hurried it to the side of the flight deck and threw it overboard (which was the procedure at the time - scratch one $60,000 missile). You cannot load and/or fire a missile that has been dropped - it might explode on the rail at launch, the rocket motor might not ignite, or it's guidance mechanism damaged rendering it useless to pursue a target, etc... This was just one of many, many hazardous scenarios dealt with over the course of a day at sea, including but not limited to fires (about every other day) flight deck operation mishaps, falling off an aircraft elevator or down an ammunition lift, blown overboard, or just falling head first down a ladder etc..., In spite of those ever present dangers I had a great career (with a tour in the war torn middle east before it was all over) and with that said, nowadays the only ships I sail aboard are the ones with comfortable cabins and beds, restaurants, night clubs, Las Vegas style entertainment and Casinos. I'll take my chances onboard one of those, thank you very much!
NOTE: Check out the video below which shows when things go wrong (and they can) during flight operations at sea: