Ordnance personnel are trained to perform weapon control system checks properly and handle ordnance with the utmost adherence to procedural steps and safety precautions.
Here is a small collection of instances when procedures weren't followed or existing methods proved inadequate and the fatal results:
Two sailors aboard the USS Oriskany were restoring aircraft flares off-loaded from aircraft returning from a mission over Vietnam on October 26, 1966. One of the sailors dropped a flare. The arming mechanism had not been reset to "safe" and somehow the safety lanyard was pulled. Another sailor picked up the actuated flare, threw it into a locker, and closed the door. There were 2.75 inch rocket warheads in the locker!
The flare ignited in the locker, and the heat caused a warhead to detonate, spreading the fire. Subsequent warhead detonations soon followed. Finally, a liquid oxygen tank exploded, killing 44 sailors and injuring 156. Two helicopters and four aircraft were severely damaged.
Eight months after the Oriskany fire there was an accident on the USS Forestall. A ZUNI rocket was accidentally fired from an aircraft being readied for a mission on July 29, 1967. The rocket screamed across the flight deck, struck another aircraft and ignited a fuel fire. The initial fire could have been contained but, 90 seconds after the fire started, a bomb detonated killing or seriously wounding most of the fire fighters.
The detonation ruptured the flight deck and burning fuel spilled into the lower levels of the ship. Bombs, warheads, and rocket motors exploded with varying egress of intensity in the fire, killing 134 and wounding 161 men. Twenty-one aircraft were destroyed
After this incident the Navy established a flag level committee to pursue improvements to the systems used to control flight deck fuel fires. An ordnance safety program was also initiated to characterize flight deck fuel fires and study ways to delay the "cook-off" times of munitions. As a result; insulation is now applied to some bomb casings, delaying "cook-off" times 5 to 10 minutes in a fuel fire, but this does not diminish the violence of its explosive reaction.
A third aircraft carrier accident occurred aboard the USS Enterprise (Not NCC-1701) on January 15, 1969. The exhaust from an aircraft engine starter unit was directed onto a pod containing four ZUNI rockets. Heat caused a warhead to detonate. Fragments ruptured the aircraft's fuel tank and ignited a fire.
Three more ZUNI warheads detonated less than a minute after the first explosion. The shaped charges blew holes through the flight deck allowing burning fuel to invade the lower decks.
In all, there were 18 munition's explosions and 8 holes were blown through the flight deck. Losses totaled 15 aircraft, 28 dead, and another 344 injured.
Another accident involving munitions explosions occurred on May 26, 1981 aboard the USS Nimitz. An EA-6B aircraft attempting to land at night struck a helicopter, then hit another aircraft and tow tractor before coming to rest. A fuel fire erupted. Improved flight deck fire fighting systems quickly contained the fire and, once the fire was believed to be out, the order was given to start the clean-up.
As sailors approached the scene, a SPARROW missile warhead that was buried in the debris detonated! The explosion restarted the fire and three more warheads detonated before the fire could be extinguished. Fourteen sailors were killed and 39 injured. Three planes were destroyed and nine were damaged.
Rail Car Explosions
April 1973- A railroad accident draws the Navy
's attention to the hazards caused by fires and sensitive munitions. A train loaded with bombs had just entered the yard in Roseville, CA, when a fire was observed in one of the boxcars. Before the fire department could react, a massive explosion demolished the boxcar and spread the fire.
In the next few hours, 18 boxcars exploded in succession. There were no fatalities in this accident, but 48 people were injured and property damage totaled $24 Million.
The investigation of the Roseville train explosion was still in progress when 12 boxcars full of bombs exploded near Benson, AZ. Evidence found after the accident revealed that there had been a fire in one of the boxcars.
Ammo Dump Disasters
At least three US ammunition storage areas were destroyed by fires and secondary explosions between 1965 and 1969. Thirty six people were killed, many more injured and tons of munitions were destroyed
One of the first ammo dumps destroyed in Vietnam was at the Bien Hoa air base in 1965. It did not get much attention from the Navy, it was more or less accepted as a fact of life that this could happen in a combat area.
The USS Enterprise
accident was still fresh in people's minds when on March 23, 1969, a Viet Cong Sapper team attacked a US munitions storage area in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, causing a fire and secondary detonation of ammunition stacks.
April 1969- Secondary explosions destroyed the ammunition storage area at Da Nang, Vietnam.
After the war with Iraq, there was a fire in a US Army ammunition transport vehicle in Camp Doha, Kuwait. An explosion spread the fire and caused a massive secondary explosion. The Army lost more tanks in that one instant than it had during the entire war against Iraq. Fifty-two soldiers were injured and three were killed while clearing the area of damaged ordnance.
Other Explosive Mishaps
The Mont Blanc
Probably the most tragic accident involving ammunition in transit occurred in 1917 in the port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The tragedy becan when a ship that was loaded with high explosives collided with another ship while entering the port. As a result of the collision, fire broke out onboard the ship loaded with explosives which, after burning for a time, explosded with fearful results in the downtown waterfront area of the city.
The vessel carrying the explosives was the French ship Mont Blanc. In her holds were approximately 7000 tons of picric acid
and she carried a deck cargo of gasoline. While entering port she became involved in a collision with the Belgian steamer IMO resulting in damage which opened her hold and ignited her gasoline deck cargo. Blazing gasoline spilled into her hold through the openings caused by the collision and ignited her high explosive cargo. Her crew, expecting her to exploide momentarily, abandoned her to drift in the channel. Actually, she burned for quite some time during which she was boarded by a firefighting party form a British warship in the harbor. Likewise, tugs were dispatched to attempt to get her out of the channel. She eventually drifted against the piers along the side of the channel where, after burning for a futher period of time, she detonated in a terrific blast of high explosive force which engulfed the major part of the city and harbor.
The explosion of the Mont Blanc in Halifax harbor must rank as one of the largest which has ever occurred. It was also one of the most devastating. Approximately one half of the city was levelled. A number of nearby ships were completely demolished and the tidal wave which resulted carried other ships ashore leaving them stranded inland far above high water. The casualties amounted to 1226 people dead and thousands of others injured.
Information for this node was helped by information from http://www.ordance.org/