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26 October 2005


On this date 39 years ago, the USS Oriskany fire claimed 44 lives.

Some photos are from Capt Wynn Foster’s book: “Fire on the Hanger Deck”


Fire Casualties at Cubi Point

A Mark 24 aircraft parachute flare, used during night-time air-to-ground attack missions by Navy aircraft during the Vietnam War. When the flare was dropped, the wire lanyard (shown here taped to the body of the flare) remained attached to the aircraft, initiating an ignition sequence that provided two million candlepower of illumination from a burning magnesium-sodium mixture. The fire on board Oriskany was caused when the lanyard of a flare being handled by apprentice airmen, George James and James Sider, caught on something and was accidentally pulled

Left, Airmen Sider and right, James in post fire poses approximating where they were standing as they began re-stowing Mk 24 flares on the morning of 26 Oct 1966. Both airmen are inside the flare locker. The compartment’s charred door and warped door frame and bulkhead are evidence of the intense heat and pressure that occurred inside form the burning flares. Front left, the officer is standing in the starboard-passageway entrance to forward officers’ country.  

Left to right: James and Sider demonstrate handing a Mk 24 flare in a post fire pose of their approximate positions while unloading the first tow flare skids. James is in the doorway to the starboard-access passageway, and Sider is inside the flare locker.

Crewmen move a bomb skid, loaded with a 1,000 lb low-drag bomb, out of danger.

Crewmen jettison a bomb skid with two 500 lb low drag bombs from the starboard sponson outside hangar bay number two, aft of the fire area. Speaking with admiration of the prompt, purposeful, and unselfish actions of these and other crewmen during the fire, and experienced Oriskany chief petty officer later said, “Those kids saved the ship!”


Standing in fire-retardant fog foam, crewmen man fire-fighting hoses on the Oriskany’s starboard sponson, aft of the flare locker

Crewmen on the forward area of the Oriskany’s flight deck man hoses lowered to combat the fire below. One of the hoses in the upper portion of the photo was lowered to Saints LCDR Reynolds, trapped in his stateroom on the main deck, forward of the burning flare locker.

Helicopter operations were conducted from the forward section of the Oriskany’s flight deck while crewmen manned hoses in order to fight the fire below. Three men who fell overboard during the fire were rescued by the “Angel”, the helo hovering overhead.

Crewmen manning fire hoses on Oriskany flight deck.

Crewmen don and change OBAs used in attempts to rescue fellow Oriskany shipmates as other continue to man fire-fighting hoses.

View of fire damage to the forward starboard section of hangar bay one: left, the forward #1 aircraft elevator pit; center, the forward elevator control console; right, the arched opening to the starboard passageway and the flare locker, immediately behind the panel bulkhead, where flares were being re-stowed. Emergency post fire repairs were made to the riser.

A view looking forward toward the port side of hangar bay one after the fire was under control. Crewmen relax momentarily and discuss their traumatic experiences. Fire damage to the bay overhead is obvious. Right, the dark rectangle behind the men is the forward aircraft elevator pit. Left, behind the hose-covered area to the left of center is where the oxygen tank exploded and the helicopter burned.

Saint AH 306 at Alameda repair depot shortly after the fire

Saint AH 306 at Alameda. Ejection seat went off during the fire.

My thanks go out to Ed Copher from VA-163 for this article.


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