Off Coast, FL Explosion On Battleship IOWA, Apr 1989
IOWA HEADS HOME, MOURNING 47 DEAD.
Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, P.R., April 20 -- The bodies of 47 crewmen of the battleship Iowa were flown ashore here today and then on to a military mortuary in Delaware for identification. Then the ship, her teak foredeck blackened and the guns of one turret askew, steamed north.
As the Iowa began the journey to her home port of Norfolk, Va., an investigating team lead by Rear Adm. Richard D. Milligan, a former captain of the Iowa's sister ship New Jersey, went aboard to begin an inquiry into the explosion that killed all but 11 men in a gun turret Wednesday. A spokesman for the Navy said he did not know how long the inquiry would last.
Helicopters brought the bodies of the 47 crewmen killed in the explosion to the base here, where sailors in starched whites ceremoniously loaded the caskets aboard a transport plane for the flight to Delaware. The Navy released the names and hometowns of the dead.
A senior naval officer, meanwhile, announced that the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Carlisle A. H. Trost, had ordered a halt to any firing of 16-inch guns on the Navy's four battleships until the cause of the explosion had been determined.
As a news conference on the naval station here, Vice Adm. Jerome L. Johnson said 11 of the 58 sailors in the turret at the time of the explosion had survived. The survivors were at the bottom of the turret's steel cylinder, which extends six levels deep under the guns themselves, the admiral said.
Admiral Johnson, commander of the Second Fleet, who was aboard the Iowa at the time of the explosion, said no one else had been injured, contrary to earlier reports, because the explosion had been contrained within the turret and its top five stories.
He suggested that the explosion occurred in the top of the turret. The force of the blast then blew down the cylinder, killing all but those in the powder magazine down by the keel. How they escaped harm is not yet clear, but naval officers surmised that the hatches leading up had been closed at the time.
The explosion occurred during maneuvers some 300 miles northeast of Puerto Rico about 9:55 A.M. Admiral Johnson said the Iowa had planned to fire 22 rounds of practice ammunition, using the two forward turrets and the one aft, from the guns, which can hurl a 2,700-pound projectile 20 miles.
Turret one had completed its firing and turret two, which is behind and above turret one, was preparing to fire.
The admiral said the ship's skipper, Capt. Fred P. Moosally, had just given the turret crew permission to fire when the explosion occurred in turret two. From preliminary indications, the 47 victims died almost instantly.
Overhead sprinkler-flooding systems were activated in each compartment, Navy officials said. They said the powerful sprinklers, which can be operated automatically or manually, would not have prevented any wounded from escaping, although the ship's officers believed from the outset that the men in the immediate area of the blast and flames could not have survived.
Navy officers said it appeared likely that the death toll would not rise. Earlier reports suggested that there might be more deaths. After the accident, musters were held in which every one of the more than 1,500 officers and sailors aboard were identified by face.
Admiral Johnson said the fire and damage control crews of the ship, made up of sailors who have other duties but who have been trained to handle such disasters, reacted immediately.
"There was no chaos at all," he said. He praised those and other sailors for their "heroic efforts" in putting out the fire within two hours.
Although the main damage was contained within the turret and the spaces immediately below, a visitor to the ship later said the heat had blackened the teak deck in front of the turret.
The three guns of the turret were swung to the right, or starboard, side, with the two outside guns elevated and the middle gun, right in front of the explosion, depressed and clearly displaced from its carriage. The cowlings of rubber that sealed the gun turret from saltwater and weather had been vaporized by the explosion.
Continued on Page 2.