Burst boiler pipe kills 10 sailors in Persian Gulf

October 31, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- A burst of superheated steam killed 10 U.S. sailors yesterday in a boiler-room accident aboard a Navy assault ship, forcing a scale-back of a new test for a possible amphibious landing in the Persian Gulf.

The break in a high-pressure steam line erupted just minutes after the 29-year-old Iwo Jima pulled out of port in Manama, Bahrain, where it had undergone five days of repairs, military officials in Saudi Arabia said.

In what the officials described as a "major leak," all 10 sailors on duty at the time were apparently showered with scalding liquid and vapor that spewed across the room under pressure at temperatures of as much as 850 degrees. After the accident, the vessel and its 1,100 Marines withdrew from participation in a massive amphibious landing exercise that began yesterday on a beachhead in Oman.

The fatal blast came as another serviceman was reported killed and six others injured in two military accidents ashore, one of them involving a Marine sentry who shot at three Navy sailors as they approached his guard station.

The shooting, which the military said appeared to be accidental, left one sailor in serious condition with wounds from machine-gun fire and two others suffering from less serious injuries.

In the other incident, a vehicle plunged over a 20-foot desert embankment during a nighttime training mission, killing one Marine and injuring three others.

The series of accidents brought to 42 the number of U.S. servicemen killed since the U.S. buildup began.

The 11 U.S. deaths in a single day ended three weeks without an accident since the Army and Air Force, in response to a series of BTC fatal aircraft mishaps, imposed strict limits on night flying.

Since the restrictions were imposed, there have been no serious aircraft accidents involving either service. But some officers have raised concerns about the prohibitions, which force Army helicopters to maintain an altitude of 150 feet and Air Force aircraft to stay above 1,000 feet. They say the restrictions rule out maneuvers essential to training for possible combat.

The burst steam line in the No. 2 boiler room of the 602-foot Iwo Jima, which occurred at 8:15 a.m. local time, caused the largest number of deaths in a single incident in the theater to date.

The Iwo Jima, built in 1961, is the Navy's oldest amphibious assault ship. It has a steam-driven power system, in which steam is maintained at pressures of 600 pounds per square inch.

It occurred with the ship a little more than a mile out of Bahrain on the way to a rendezvous with 17 other Navy amphibious vessels to begin a weeklong amphibious assault exercise on a remote beachhead in the northern Arabian Sea.

But the forced withdrawal of the Iwo Jima from the operation eliminated one of the three largest ships and more than 10 percent of the Marines in the floating task force.

With no immediate indication of the cause of the early-morning accident, the ship's captain immediately ordered both boilers shut down and the vessel towed back to shore for further repairs, Navy officials said.

Six of the sailors were killed immediately, and their bodies were flown back to the United States. Four others died several hours later aboard the Navy hospital ship Comfort.

Identities of eight of the killed were released by the Navy's Atlantic Fleet. Two names were withheld pending notification of next of kin. The Iwo Jima is based in Norfolk, Va.

The names of those killed are:

* David A. Gilliland, 21, Warrensburg, Mo.

* Mark E. Hutchison, 27, Elkins, W.Va.

* Daniel Lupatsky, 22, Centralia, Pa.

* Daniel C. McKinsey, 21, Hanover, Pa.

* Fred R. Parker Jr., 24, Reidsville, N.C.

* James A. Smith Jr., 22, Somerville, Tenn.

* John M. Snyder, 25, Milltown, N.J.

* Robert L. Volden, 28, Rego Park, N.Y.

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