The USS Forrestal, the U.S. Navy’s first supercarrier which was called the “biggest ship ever built” by Popular Science when it launched in 1954, has been sold for one penny to All Star Metals, a Texas company that will dismantle it to be recycled.
The 1,067 foot ship is best known for the tragic 1967 incident in which an accidental explosion struck a plane on its deck, and a chain reaction across the ship killed 134 men and injured another 300 or more. John McCain was the pilot of the plane that was hit, but he managed to escape with his life.
The Navy attempted to donate the ship, but no museum was interested enough to make a “viable application,” and no one wanted to keep it as a memorial. Ken Killmeyer, historian for the USS Forrestal Association and a survivor of the 1967 accident, said, “It’s something that the Navy is caught between a rock and a hard place. They have to have these vessels no matter how big or small they are, and they use them as you would your car until they’re no longer financially viable. So, they decommission them.”
The ship required more than 16,000 engineers, draftsmen, and builders to build; it took roughly $217 million to build in its day, the equivalent of almost $2 billion today.
The July 29, 1967, accident in the Gulf of Tonkin was caused by stray voltage catalyzing an F-4 Phantom to release a rocket which hit the armed A-4 Skyhawk piloted by McCain. The resultant fires and explosions triggered a day-long fire devastating the planes on the flight deck. The bulk of the firefighters on deck were killed. After being decommissioned in 1993, the ship rested in Newport, R.I., until 2010, when it traveled to Philadelphia’s Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility.
Killmeyer acknowledged that the prohibitive cost of maintenance forced the sale, saying, “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.”
He related how the fatal accident changed the life of the survivors: “As crewmembers, 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.”