Aircraft Carrier Hosts Ghosts after Terrible Inferno
The ghosts of the USS Forrestal are legend in the annals of naval ship ghost sightings. Read the tragic story of this massive aircraft carrier, and perhaps the primary reason it became haunted.
The Forrestal Serves with Distinction
The Forrestal was the last aircraft carrier to be commissioned near the end of WWII. She then went on to serve in the Vietnam war and participated in numerous vital missions. Sadly, the Forrestal is most remembered for having the worst fire in Aircraft Carrier History.
On July 29th, 1967, while stationed off the coast of North Vietnam, fighter pilots were seated in their armed jets preparing for a mission. Suddenly, an electrical anomaly caused a Zuni rocket to prematurely launch. The rocket screamed across the deck and tore into a parked Skyhawk jet. The Skyhawk, which was waiting to take off, happened to be piloted by Lt. John McCain (recently deceased), future POW war hero, and senator from Arizona.
Sequence of Events Ignites a Conflagration!
Fuel from the damaged Skyhawk shot out and subsequently ignited a fire. The fire spread like lightening and caused a 1,000-pound bomb to detonate. The ensuing explosion immediately killed many of the first-responder firefighters. To make matters worse, a further chain reaction of explosions blew holes in the flight deck. Soon, more than half of the large carrier was on fire.
Trapped in their planes, many pilots couldn’t escape the horrific flames. Although his plane was hit by the Zuni bomb, young John McCain, miraculously still alive, clambered out of his jet. Although injured, McCain valiantly dragged many burning crew members away from the fire.
The inferno blazed all that day and the rest of the night. Ultimately, a total of 134 men died (some sources say, 137). Ironically, in just a few weeks, McCain, now assigned to another vessel, would crash in North Vietnam and be taken prisoner.
There Were Previous Fatal Accidents
In addition to the fire, it’s important to note that the Forrestal incurred previous losses of crew members. Specifically, several fatalities involved jet pilots who’d crashed on the flight deck.
Eerie Events Spook Crew Members
Sometime after the fire, and no one can say precisely when, crewmen began reporting mysterious happenings. Specifically, secured hatches opened and slammed shut with each roll of the ship. Additionally, on numerous occasions, mumble voices sounded on intercom phones when answered. Lights came on by themselves or spookily flickered. To add to this, empty compartments frequently produced eerie sounds such as moaning and banging emanating from them. Eventually, reports of ghostly apparitions began to circulate.
Addressing the stories of ghosts for the media, then public relations officer, Lt. James Brooks, was quoted as saying, “Whatever, or whoever it is, crew members swear a ghost is responsible for the flickering lights, voices on disconnected phones, and things that go bump in the night.”
“Incredibly,” he added, “when performing their duties below deck, men adamantly claim that they’ve seen ghosts.”
Food Freezers are the Focal Point for Spirit Activity
It became common knowledge that deep in the bowels of the ship where two mammoth cold food lockers are situated, crewmen and cooks began to dread entering inside the lockers. It seems that one of these freezers was the temporary morgue after the catastrophic explosion. Bodies and body parts were carefully stored there until the ship reached the nearest U.S. Naval base.
In whispered conversations, crew members of the Forrestal theorized that the ghost was that of a former Chief Petty Officer who’d been killed when accidentally sealed into a battle compartment during the disastrous fire. Others were convinced the ghost was that of a pilot who’d perished in a crash previous to the great fire.
The Storage Lockers Become a No-Go Zone
Interestingly, Petty Officer, Dan Balboa, who oversaw the Officer’s Mess, claimed that for years after the disaster, some of his men refused to go alone into the freezer storage lockers.
A Cook Sees the Apparition of an Old Friend
“One cook was scared out of his wits every time he entered the area. It got so bad that the cook absolutely refused to go anywhere near the freezers and had to be transferred off the ship. I’ve never seen the ghost myself, but I know that guy saw the ghost of someone he once knew,” added Balboa. “But I’ve sure heard some strange sounds when down there.”
“One night, when I was below taking inventory, I heard the heavy steel deck grating being lifted and slammed back down several times. Yet, each time I turned around to investigate the sound, nothing was there. Another time I was checking the freezers’ temperatures and all the doors that I had just latched, reopened by themselves.”
Disconnected Phones Ring
Another weird story is that on several occasions in the freezer area, the disconnected phones ring. When picked up by some hapless individual, a creepy voice speaks some words and the phone line goes dead. This chilling occurrence happened to several individuals while working in the freezer area.
Sailors began seeing an apparition of a man in khaki pants that looked like an officer or chief. Sightings eventually became so common, sailors nicknamed the ghost “George” as if to make the apparition one of them and perhaps to maintain a modicum of sanity.
Cooks Are Frequently Haunted by the Ghost
Second Class Chief Cook, James Hilliard, reported he saw “George” and that it still gives him goosebumps every time he thinks about it. He looked up one day and saw a figure wearing a khaki uniform standing in the doorway. The mysterious figure then walked past Hilliard not six feet away and looked to be a real person except, Hilliard could see through him!
Chief Gary Weiss reported his ghostly encounter after he witnessed a strange figure that didn’t belong in the area. The figure proceeded to open a hatchway and then descended the stairs into one of the reefer compression rooms. Alarmed, Weiss said he followed the individual down and perplexingly, no one was there, and that there was no other way out of compartment.
Interestingly, apparitions and weird happenings weren’t confined to the freezer area. In other areas of the ship, crewmen reported being touched or even grasped by a hand that “wasn’t there.” Others claimed hearing footsteps following them in empty corridors. After turning around to see who it was, once again, no one was visible.
Welder Witnesses Severely Burned Petty Officer
Eventually decommissioned in 1993, the Forrestal was moved to the Philadelphia’s Naval shipyard. Stan Shimborski, a welder hired to dismantle some equipment in the freezer storage area, didn’t know that the compartment served as the makeshift morgue after the 1967 fire. Still visibly shaken when sharing his ghastly experience, Stan tells reporters,
“I no sooner got down to work, when I hear this loud clanging noise.” Shimborski goes on to say, “I think it’s another worker down there. I get out my wrench, and I clang back, ‘clang clang.’ A few seconds later, I hear this return clang, ‘clang, clang.’ For the heck of it, I clang again, ‘clang clang.’ Again a few seconds, ‘clang, clang.’ Finally, I decided to see who it was. Leaving my work, I go through the doors and at the end of the long room is the figure of a horribly burned chief petty officer just staring at me. Then he slowly fades away. Needless to say, I got out of there fast!”
The USS Forrestal Gets a New Home
Sold for Scrap in 2014
The prohibitive cost of keeping the Forrestal as a museum started piling up. In 2014, unable to raise the funds needed, the Forrestal was towed to Delaware and then moved to Brownsville, Texas, for dismantlement as scrap. A sad end for such a magnificent and troubled aircraft carrier.
Here’s to “George” whoever he was. Regardless of his status as a ghost, when alive, this man served his country and made the ultimate sacrifice by dying while in service.
A very special salute to all the other men who died that day in the fire, and a salute for every soul that has ever died while serving our country.
Ghost Ships, by Richard Winer, Berkley Books, New York, 2000
Fire, Fire, Fire on the Flight Deck, by Kenneth V. Killmeyer, 2018