Leonardo, NJ Nike Missile Explosion, May 1958
NIKE BASE DISASTER PROBED.
10 KILLED IN VIOLENT EXPLOSION.
Middletown, N.J. (AP) -- Investigators searched a Nike base near here today in an effort to learn what caused eight fully armed missiles to blow up in a furious mushroom of fire and death.
The explosion yesterday killed 10 persons and scattered explosive warheads across a wide area of the countryside.
The disaster, described by a general as an accident that could not happen but did, was set off by a single missile that exploded.
A split-second chain reaction turned the entire area into a flaming pit of destruction that one eyewitness called horrible beyond belief.
Mangled bodies and fragments lay strewn about where a moment before men had stood. The disintegration of the victims made it difficult to establish identities of all.
Three others were injured, one seriously.
The dead included six soldiers and four civilians.
Sgt. DANIEL J. LAVENGOOD.
Sgt. JEROME W. MOULD.
SP3 WALTER E. BERRY.
SP3 WILLIAM I. COCHRAN.
PFC DONALD L. MARSH.
Pvt. NICKLOS J. COMPOSINO.
Civil Corps Civilian Victims:
JOSEPH F. BROKOS.
LEE A. PARKER.
Two servicemen in a 20-foot-deep pit under a missile's launching pad miraculously survived the holocaust.
Staff Sgt. JOSEPH W. McKENZIE, 33, a launcher section chief from Framingham, Mass., stepped from the pit unhurt. His partner, Pfc. JOSEPH ABOTT, 24, Grindstone, Pa., was treated for shock and hysteria.
The missiles, known as the Ajax type, exploded at about 1:20 p.m. while a team of experts was working on them. They were to be replaced next year by Hercules missiles capable of carrying atomic warheads.
Each of the Ajax missiles carried three conventional warheads of explosives and shrapnel.
Most of the explosive devices were accounted for, but some had still not been located today.
Duff said ordnance experts had found that all of the eight missiles had left the launching area, flying various distances.
A 12-foot section of one missile landed in a back yard three-quarters of a mile away.
Patrolman Daniel Murdoch, one of the first at the scene, told of "the horror of seeing men, their bodies still afire, and the head of at least one of the men blown away by the force of the explosion."
The Army flew in three inspectors from the office of the chief of ordnance in Washington to investigate the explosion. What set it off may never be known.
Residents of this area had protested in vain against erection of the installation 18 months ago. The Army had told the public no such accident was possible and that the missiles would only be fired in case of war.
Windows were shattered and doors blown in a mile or more from the explosion scene. One woman was blown out of a chair in the living room of her home.
The Ajax, about 32 feet long and a foot in diameter, weighs about a ton and is designed to bring down enemy aircraft at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet. It has a range of 15 miles.
Chester Times Pennsylvania 1958-05-23