Searcy, AR Titan Missle Silo Explosion, Aug 1965
Death Count In Missile Silo Explosion Rises To Grim 53
Search For Bodies Continues
SEARCY, Ark. (AP) - The death count from an explosion and fire in a Titan II missile launching site rose to 53 today with the discovery of six more bodies on lower levels of the underground silo.
"It is very possible this is the final count," said Capt. DOUGLAS WOOD, Air Force public information officer at the site.
Searchers planned to pump several feet of water out of the bottom of the concrete tube holding the missile before giving up the search.
The exact number of civilians workmen in the missile complex at the time of the blast and fire Monday was uncertain through the long night of probing - first hopefully, for survivors, and then for the bodies of the dead.
Two workmen scrambled out when the fire erupted and escaped without serious injury.
The Air Force said all the victims apparently asphyxiated when the blast and fire sealed off their means of escape and filled the complex with smoke.
Rescue teams wearing asbestos suits and gas masks, and using special gear to breathe in the smoke-clogged silo, worked through the night bringing the bodies to the surface.
The Air Force said the 100-foot Titan II in the tube, an intercontinental ballistics missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead 6,000 miles, did not burn.
It was not armed, a spokesman said, and there was no danger of a nuclear explosion.
Cause of the blast and fire has not been determined.
The men in the tube were civilians working to update the missile complex, one of 18 Titan II launching sites ringing central Arkansas.
Four Air Force crewmen in the control center of the complex - the most distant point from the launch area - got out unharmed.
At least eight other Air Force men and a number of civilians working above ground were not harmed by the blast.
Some 100 relatives, clustered in small groups and talking quietly, waited under a full moon in the warm night air for word of the rescue operation. Air Force police kept everyone a half mile from the tube.
The first bodies were brought out at 7:30 p. m., about four hours after the blast.
The site is about 12 miles outside Searcy, a town of 8,000 about 50 miles northeast of Little Rock.
The fire broke out while carpenters, painters, millwrights, electricians and pipefitters were working in the complex.
The men were employes of Peter Kiewit and Son Co. of Aurora, Colo. The firm said it would withhold identities of the victims until all the men were accounted for.
The Air Force rescue teams brought up the bodies on a freight elevator.
The bodies were shifted to stretchers and taken to a nearby hut - a temporary morgue - where officials of the Kiewit company identified them by badge number.
Then the bodies were moved to funeral homes.
Ambulances from cities throughout the area were at the scene.
At the start of the search for bodies and survivors, the rescue workers brought in huge air hoses to push out the smoke.
Later they used gas masks and special breathing apparatus when they lowered themselves into the silo. The special breathing gear allowed only 30 minutes work at a time.
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