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Forrestal, Navy's 1st 'supercarrier,' changes hands in one-cent transaction

Crew members aboard the USS Forrestal fight a series of fires and explosions on the carrier's flight deck in the Gulf of Tonkin on July 29, 1967. Armed and fueled aircraft were on the deck, being prepared for missions over Vietnam, when stray voltage triggered a rocket to strike an aircraft and set off a deadly chain of events.

This story has been corrected.

The USS Forrestal, a decommissioned aircraft carrier aboard which more than 130 sailors died amid a series of explosions and massive fire in 1967, has changed hands for a penny.

The Navy said Tuesday it has awarded a delivery order for $0.01 to All Star Metals of Brownville, Texas, for scrapping and recycling. Before the end of the year, the Forrestal is expected to be towed from the Navy's inactive ship facility in Philadelphia to All Star Metals' facility in Texas.

Christopher Johnson, a spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), told the Philadelphia Inquirer that one cent  "is the lowest price the Navy could possibly have paid the contractor for the towing and dismantling of ex-Forrestal."

Pat Dolan, a NAVSEA spokeswoman, told the Inquirer that All Star Metals will assume all the risks and costs of towing and dismantling the carrier, and will sell the scrap with the aim of recovering its costs and making a profit.

The Navy's first "supercarrier," the Forrestal was in the Gulf of Tonkin the morning of July 29, 1967, for the Vietnam War effort when stray voltage triggered a rocket to launch from an F-4 Phantom on the flight deck.

The rocket struck an armed A-4 Skyhawk -- piloted by a young Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain III -- rupturing the fuel tanks and sparking a chain reaction of fires and explosions on the deck, which was parked full of planes.

The crew fought the flight deck fire for an hour, but other fires blazed into the next day.

In the aftermath, 134 men were killed and more than 300 injured. The ship was heavily damaged, and more than 26 aircraft were destroyed and more than 30 damaged. More importantly, the Forrestal fire prompted changes to the way the Navy handles damage control and helped improve disaster training.

The aircraft carrier spent more than seven months in a shipyard undergoing repairs after the tragedy but returned to sea for more than two decades.

On Sept. 11, 1993, the Forrestal was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register after more than 38 years of service.

The Navy made Forrestal available for donation in June 1999 as a museum or memorial but received no viable applications.

Joseph A. Gambardello of The Philadelphia Inquirer contributed to this report.

huff.audrea@stripes.com
Twitter: @audreahuff

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that it was the Navy that paid one cent in the transaction, not All Star Metals.
 

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