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USS Forrestal survivors speak of being 'scared to death' - abc27 WHTM

USS Forrestal survivors speak of being 'scared to death'

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July 29th, 1967 -- 45 years ago this month. The fifth straight day of launching air strikes against North Vietnam. Almost routine for the crew of the USS Forrestal -- until 10:52 a.m.

Without warning, an attack rocket accidentally discharged from a jet fighter, slamming into the fuel tank of a manned plane. Firefighters rushed in and saved the pilots, including future U.S. Senator John McCain. But a thousand-pound bomb was sizzling just behind that wall of black smoke.

On that tragic morning, Midstate radio personality Dan Steele was a 20-year old aviation hydraulics mechanic, working one deck below the first explosion.

"When the first bomb went off, and we were all put on the deck, I thought, 'Are we under attack? And where do we go?'," said Steele, who served on the USS Forrestal from 1966-67.

"We started running forward and another bomb went off, and it put us on the deck."

Within minutes, Steele was part of a ship-wide, life or death struggle to keep the supercarrier afloat.

Seven decks below, Franklin County native Don Ridgely and his crew knew the ship was in trouble, but didn't yet know why.

"When the thousand pound bomb went off on the ship, it just made the ship go like that, up and down in the water," he said.

With communication lacking from above, the reaction among his boiler room buddies was the same: "Scared. Scared to death," said Ridgely, who was on the Forrestal from 1966-69.

Of the 5,500 men on board that day, 134 died and 161 were injured. But the surviving crew fought valiantly for 24 hours and saved the ship. A year later, the Forrestal returned to duty and served proudly for 25 more years.

Part two of this story will air on Thursday. Extended interviews with Steele and Ridgely are available at the links below.

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