Witnesses tell of heroism; panel to probe carrier fire
SUBIC BAY, R.P. — Stories of sacrifice in the face of certain death emerged here Wednesday as the Navy scaled-down from seven to three the number of men still missing after the disastrous fire that struck the supercarrier Forrestal off Vietnam.
At the same time, the Navy announced that a panel of high-ranking officers — headed by Rear Adm. Forsyth Massey, Fleet Air commander at Quonset Point, R.I. — has been named to probe the cause of the fire which killed 129 and injured 64.
Sailors told of drama and heroism as crewmen fought to save their ship and fellow crewmen.
"I turned around and saw the fireballs coming at me and I hit the deck," recalled Aviation Electrician's Mate 3.C. Bruce Mulligan. "I saw two or three guys rolling around on fire. Everybody around me just started tearing-off their clothes.
"There must have been another explosion because the next thing I knew I was by myself — up forward. The first thing I thought of was to get a fire hose, and I started back toward the fire."
Mulligan, ordered to report for medical treatment for his wounds, returned to the fire three times.
"I was under one of the aircraft on the waist catapult and there were three or four more explosions and I got hit by shrapnel," Mulligan related.
"Later, I went aft and got an OBA (oxygen breathing apparatus), but it had no air in it. I stayed back there until I just about passed out and my buddy dragged me out."
Cmdr. Jack DeWinter, command of the Forrestal's Carrier Air Wing 17, said: "It was an inspiring sight. The acts of some of the men on the flight deck were tremendous.
"There was a chief petty officer who picked up a fire bottle and ran into the flames to try to cool down the bombs that were on one of the aircraft, truly an act of supreme heroism.
"A couple of seconds later the plane blew up."
The man was killed in the explosion.
"That was, in my opinion, the supreme sacrifice and the supreme effort on the part of the individual to save the ship and his fellow crewmen," DeWinter added.