The USS Forrestal, the Navy’s first “supercarrier,” has begun its final voyage after having been sold for scrap for $0.01. The ship, decommissioned since 1993, has left Philadelphia, bound for All Star Metals in Brownville, Texas, where it will be parted out.
The 1,067 foot ship, an active military vessel for 38 years, is best known as the site of a July 29, 1967 disaster in which an accidental rocket launch began a fire that took the lives of 134 crewmen and damaged 21 aircraft. Among the crew that day was future POW, Senator, and presidential candidate John McCain. The tragedy prompted the Navy to overhaul its emergency response training, as many of the firefighters on board died in the event, leaving remaining crew members to improvise firefighting methods. After seven months of repairs, the ship returned to service for a further 20-plus years.
After decommissioning, the ship waited in Newport, R.I., before being transferred to the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia, which houses more than 20 ships awaiting sale, transfer, or conversion to artificial reefs.
Naval authorities had hoped that the Forrestal would be purchased as a museum or memorial, but received no viable proposals. Maintenance on the ship would make such a project financially problematic, according to Navy veteran and former Forrestal crewman Ken Killmeyer: “If they’re not painting them or working on it somehow, it’s an odd day because they’re always maintaining something to keep them afloat. The weather plays havoc on their exterior no matter what climate they’re in. The biggest expense is maintenance.” Killmeyer was aboard for the 1967 fire and says the devastation remains fresh in his mind. “As crew members, we relive July 29, 1967, every time we hear a loud, unexplained noise, whether you’re at the beach or you’re in your office. Or, some people are affected by certain odors. When you smell flesh burnt from jet fuel, it kind of stays with you forever. You can’t get away from it.”
The ship left Philadelphia at 5:31 a.m. on Tuesday. Its final voyage down the east coast will take 17 days, according to Nikhil Shah, President of All Star Metals. “This is the largest ship that we’ve ever dismantled,” Shah said, “and the largest ship the U.S. government has ever awarded to be dismantled. It’s a very big job to us.” While Shah did not have a specific figure for the salvage value of the vessel, he confirmed that the Forrestal, as scrap, could be worth millions.
Image via Wikimedia Commons