Jump to content
Gunboat1

Sea Stories - #51 Widow Makers

Recommended Posts

Sea Stories: #51 - Widow Makers

 

Working aboard a warship at sea is inherently hazardous. The ocean itself is dangerous. Heavy seas and hurricane winds can sink a ship and kill everyone aboard. Falling overboard can kill you from striking the sea from a great height (a large ship), by getting sucked into and chopped into hunks by the propellers (any ship) or simply by hypothermia or drowning. (In my day, many very large ships had one or two sailors go overboard on deployments; these are often suicides, and it is not uncommon to find the sailor's shoes and uniform folded by the rail from which he jumped. I would bet that the infrequent murder takes place like this as well. I suspect the statistics remain about the same today.)

But aside from the ocean environment, there are plenty of other very dangerous elements within the lifelines which can kill you deader than hell. I call these “widow makers” and will list a few for your consideration.

The risks of the explosion of weapons, or fire caused by burning fuel or oil is pretty self-apparent. There are lots of weapons and flammable substances onboard ship. Enough said.

Aviation: Working on the flight deck of any air-capable ship is dangerous, day or night. Deck space is extremely limited and busy. Helicopters hovering generate large static electricity charges; touching the bird or any suspended load before grounding with a shorting probe can electrocute you. Spinning rotors are invisible and can behead you in the blink of an eye; the tail rotor is especially deadly. If a man forgets and gets too close to the tail (or the pilot loses control and the tail gets to close to the man), it's lights out. And on an Aircraft Carrier flight deck, jet engines can blow a sailor off the edge of the ship, or suck them into the jet engine. Night operations are extremely dangerous, what with all the noise, jet and rotor blast and confusion. It takes constant situational awareness to work there safely. Add in jet fuel and live explosive ordnance. It's a deadly playground.

Electricity: Our great enabler, electricity makes our modern technological society possible. Normally, we harness it in dozens of ways each day without a second thought. But onboard ship, it can kill. If a piece of electrical equipment is properly grounded, no problem (usually). But if the grounding strap breaks, or is improperly installed, or gets painted over so that it becomes resistant rather than conductive, and a sailor touches the equipment, it can short to the ground of the steel deck VIA THE BODY of the sailor. Bzzzzzt. KAPOW. Dead sailor. Sometimes, ungrounded equipment can simply charge the steel deck. And if a sailor standing on the deck touches the overhead or another unconnected steel element, he finds himself right in the middle of what is essentially an electrical capacitor: a component which stores a large electrical charge and discharges it all at once when that charge's voltage exceeds the resistance of the dielectric, or resistive medium in the middle. Bzzzzzt. KAPOW. Dead sailor. I once saw a training aid of a gold wedding band welded to the shank of a large screwdriver. A sailor had been working with the screwdriver on a piece of energized equipment and contrary to good industrial safety practice, had left his wedding ring on his finger. Electricity did its thing, welding the ring to the screwdriver and amputating the man's ring finger. Word was there was no bleeding, as the electrical burn instantly cauterized the stump.

Rotating machinery: Equipment spinning at high speed can crush, grab or amputate if a sailor gets caught in it. There are lots of pieces of equipment going roundy-roundy in any ship, at all times. The most interesting one of these I ever heard about was told to me by a Machinery Repairman Chief Petty Officer assigned to my Division. He was kind enough to show me the basics of how to run a metal lathe, which was an impressive skill he had in spades. As a cautionary tale, he related the time as a junior sailor in his first machine shop when he saw a shipmate get killed before his eyes. The man chucked a long piece of thick brass bar stock into a lathe, grossly off-center, and flipped on the lathe. Unfortunately, the lathe was set to high speed. It spun so fast that the centrifugal force imparted to the off-center brass bar spun it outward, easily bending the malleable brass and smashing it into the man's skull, splattering his brains all over the shop. Needless to say , I was very careful about lathe settings when I played with the equipment after that.

Steam: My first ship was steam powered, and every nuclear-powered ship in the Navy (every submarine, and aircraft carrier) is still steam powered. Steam must be placed at very high temperatures and pressures to contain enough energy to drive a multi-thousand ton ship. In my ship, that meant 1200 PSI and 950F. The steam system can develop a leak either through a flange fastener failing, a pinhole or crack developing at a hot spot caused by a corrosive deposit formed due to improper water chemistry in the system, or by shock caused by explosive attack (torpedo, bomb or missile.) Everyone can relate to a minor steam burn. You probably got one as a child “experimenting” with your mother's steam iron or cook pot. But main propulsion steam is another animal entirely. A superheated high pressure steam leak is clear and invisible. It can cut a man in two like an enormous claymore sword. When in engineering, if an unusual, extremely loud rushing sound starts up, you STAND STILL. Then someone grabs a broom and starts inching forward, waving it around until the broom head gets cut off or bursts into flame. That's how you find the leak. (A tip of the hat to steam engineers: I was always in awe of those guys, doing uncomfortable work in hot, humid spaces, far below decks, not knowing what was going on topside, just keeping the ship moving, the lights on and all the equipment running. The repetitive heat stress they endured aged them prematurely; most old “snipes” (as engineers are lovingly called by their shipmates) are actually younger than they look. )

Elevators and dumbwaiters: Large ships frequently have a need to move heavy things up or down between decks. This is accomplished using mechanical elevators and dumbwaiters. And every year or so, some sailor is killed when he starts up the elevator, doesn't see it appear when he expects to, and sticks his head into the shaft or trunk to look and see what the problem is. Chop. Crush. Dead sailor.

Torpedo Fuel: Torpedoes run on a special type of extremely noxious fuel. It is deadly, before and after it is burned in the torpedo's engine. The exhaust is especially toxic. If a torpedo happens to start running in the room before being locked into the torpedo tube, it can kill very quickly.

Toxic and explosive gas: The decomposition of organic material generates hazardous gases. In a confined space made of metal, there is no place for the gas to dissipate to, and it builds up and concentrates. Some of the biggies of concern aboard ship are methane, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. Any of these in sufficient concentration can render a sailor unconscious and kill them almost instantly. So particular care must be taken when entering a confined space which is not normally ventilated or occupied (like a tank or void space.) A man goes in wearing a breathing apparatus and a gas test should be performed. A retrieval line should also be attached. The last thing that should happen is a man goes in alone and unprotected, and drops. Another shipmate finds them, rushes in to “save them”...and drops. Repeat until someone does it right and retrieves the bodies.

Fate and Flying Objects: The strangest case of shipboard death I ever heard of in my career took place aboard an OLIVER HAZARD PERRY-class Guided Missile Frigate,  USS ANTRIM (FFG-20). It was February of 1983. The ship was fortunate to have a civilian teacher aboard. The Program for Afloat College Education (PACE) was a great way for sailors to learn and earn college credits while aboard ship in their spare time. An accredited educator would come aboard and deploy with the ship and hold classes. He got paid, got a sea adventure, and sailors got desired college education. Everybody won. Except this time. The ship was conducting a live weapons shoot of their PHALANX Close In Weapons System (CIWS) at a target drone simulating a sea-skimming cruise missile. The CIWS is a radar-guided six-barrel gatling gun, which fires 20mm depleted uranium shells at an astonishing rate of 3000 or 4500 rounds per minute (that's 50 or 75 rounds per SECOND.) As the CIWS was mounted aft on that class of ship, the drone approached from right aft and was flying close but parallel to the ship's track. The CIWS did it's job well, and shot down the drone....which did an un-commanded leftward dive, plunged into the sea, skipped off the water and slammed into the side of the ship, killing the PACE instructor in his stateroom.

 

Going to sea isn't all mermaids, liberty ports and sunsets. Sometimes it can get you killed in creative ways.

image.png.c546c4999fda645cf0777a73445d1f64.png

USS ANTRIM (FFG-20) with her CIWS above the helo hangars, looking like R2D2.

Edited by Gunboat1
  • Like 2
  • Thanks 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Gunboat....

Keep these stories coming. 

I have greater respect for the shared experiences and shared sacrifices of our military men and women.

THANKS!

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I remember watching an episode og J.A.G. once upon a time where there was a steam leak, and someone using the broom to find it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 minutes ago, willie-pete said:

Boats don't scare me.

image.jpeg.cf513e5742dd44707a475d9f5c100dd3.jpeg

 

 

60450970_2451006608265512_2052927580746547200_o.jpg?_nc_cat=103&ccb=2&_nc_sid=b9115d&_nc_ohc=6-5KjFldJDcAX_3vzWs&_nc_ht=scontent-mia3-1.xx&oh=c8f3b8f7f8d86c84b857bc9e69733ea7&oe=5FEEE7BB

Some of us carried those things around too.  Sobering responsibility. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, misterfox said:

Gunboat....

Keep these stories coming. 

I have greater respect for the shared experiences and shared sacrifices of our military men and women.

THANKS!

Thanks for the kind words, but I'm down to writing the last couple now.  I'm about out of noteworthy stuff.  Two to go, unless I think of something else.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 minutes ago, willie-pete said:

Boats don't scare me.

image.jpeg.cf513e5742dd44707a475d9f5c100dd3.jpeg

 

 

60450970_2451006608265512_2052927580746547200_o.jpg?_nc_cat=103&ccb=2&_nc_sid=b9115d&_nc_ohc=6-5KjFldJDcAX_3vzWs&_nc_ht=scontent-mia3-1.xx&oh=c8f3b8f7f8d86c84b857bc9e69733ea7&oe=5FEEE7BB

Did they even see it coming?  I am not afraid of death, I am afraid of dying.  A nice quick surprise explosion would be fine.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Cougar_ml said:

I remember watching an episode og J.A.G. once upon a time where there was a steam leak, and someone using the broom to find it.

Really would suck if you hear the noise and stay still and then look down to see the steam leak already perforated you and you are leaking.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This brought back a memory.   Weapons elevator "cars" are not enclosed like regular elevators. The "car" is simply a platform that goes up and down with no walls, ceiling or doors, not a safe place for sailors to ride.  There were 2 weapons elevators on my ship that had the operating controls on the car. They ran between the 2nd deck and the 5th and 6th deck SASS (Special Ammunition Storage Space) magazines. (I can neither confirm nor deny what manner of ammunition was stored there.)  When not in use the elevator car was stored on the 3rd deck and an armored hatch on the 2nd deck closed over the top of the elevator shaft.

One day two of my shipmates were to inspect the elevator shaft.  Usual procedure was to open the armored hatch on the 2nd deck and one person would climb down a ladder on the shaft wall to the car and bring it up to the second deck and the other person would board the car.

On this day however, proper procedure was not followed.  For some reason, the second person did not wait on the second deck, but followed the first person down the ladder.  The first did not know the second person followed him down the ladder and proceeded to bring the car up to the second deck, squeezing the second person between the elevator platform and the ladder.  Upon hearing the screams of the injured sailor, he reversed direction, squeezing the injured between the platform and the ladder again.  Luckily this caused the injured sailor to fall onto the platform instead of down to the bottom of the shaft.  Doublely luckily, the injured sailor wasn't too seriously injured.  He was bruised and battered and lost a lot of blood and an ear.  He was back to work in a few days. The doc did a pretty good job putting the ear back on.  

  • Sad 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, MO Fugga said:

Pardon my ignorance, but what is this?

 

4 minutes ago, Cougar_ml said:

 

Yeah, the picture is Damascus AR where a Titan blew up in it's silo. Killed one and injured 20 odd people. 

 

The plaque is the underground fire at 3-4 that killed 53 people. My old home site. Called the " Ghost Site " after that.

 

 

Here is the " nose art " on the blast door.

hauntedsite.jpg.a11cc0920944158bcad2752ce5fc68a7.jpg

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My dad was an Aviation Boatswains Mate. Qualified as an Arresting Gear Crewmen. When he got to the USS Philippine Sea he was assigned to the galley until something opened up on deck. The was the earliest days of Korea and flight deck crews were well, even overstaffed. 
 

A couple months in he got called up to deck duty. The guy he replaced had been cut in half when a cable snapped. The found his legs. Everything else went into the South China Sea. 

  • Sad 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...