Aircraft Carrier Home to Ghostly Activity
Approximate reading time 5 minutes.
Inferno Creates a Hotbed of Ghosts
Frightening ghosts of the USS Forrestal are legend in the annals of naval ship ghost sightings. Over decades, seasoned sailors and officers alike, witnessed apparitions, heard spooky sounds, and phantom footsteps followed crew members in lonely corridors. One sailor was almost driven insane! Read the tragic story of this mega aircraft carrier and perhaps the main reason it became a haunted hotspot.
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 launch prematurely. 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), 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. Incredibly, although it was his plane that the Zuni bomb crashed into, young McCain was miraculously still alive and somehow clambered out of his jet. Injured, McCain valiantly dragged many burning crew members away from the conflagration.
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 was taken prisoner.
There Had Been 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, crew members began reporting mysterious happenings. Specifically, secured hatches opened and slammed shut with each roll of the ship.
On more than one occasion, unidentifiable voices mumbled on the other end of the intercom phones when answered. Strangely, lights turned on by themselves or eerily flickered. To add to this, empty compartments frequently produced eerie sounds such as moaning and banging noises emanating from them. Eventually, reports of ghostly apparitions began to circulate.
At the time, public relations officer Lt. James Brooks was quoted as saying, “Whatever, or whoever it is, crew members swear ghosts are responsible for the flickering lights, voices on disconnected phones, and all 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 two mammoth cold food lockers that were situated deep in the ship’s bowels were a place that crewmen and cooks began to dread entering. As it turned out, one of these freezers was assigned as the temporary morgue after the catastrophic explosion. Burnt bodies and gruesome body parts of the many dead were carefully stored there until the ship reached the nearest U.S. Naval base.
On another note, in whispered conversations, a few 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 had perished in a crash previous to the fire.
The Storage Lockers Become a No-Go Zone
Respected Petty Officer Dan Balboa, who oversaw the Officer’s Mess, claimed that some of his men refused to go alone into the freezer storage lockers for years after the disaster.
A Cook Sees the Apparition of an Old Friend
One cook was scared out of his wits every time he entered the area. Finally, it got so bad that the cook refused to go anywhere near the freezers. He finally 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. But I’ve sure heard some strange sounds when down there,” added Balboa.
Balboa shares even more. “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, then 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 commonplace that sailors nicknamed the ghost “George” as if to make the apparition one of them, and perhaps to maintain a degree 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 like a real person except, Hilliard could see right through him!
Strange Figure Seen by Chief Petty Officer
Chief Gary Weiss reported his ghostly encounter after witnessing a strange figure that didn’t belong in the area. The person proceeded to open a hatchway and then descended the stairs into one of the reefer compression rooms. Alarmed, Weiss said that he followed the individual down and no one was there. Even more spooky was the fact that there was no other way out of the compartment.
Adding to the weirdness, 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 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.
When sharing his ghostly experience, a visibly shaken Shimborski 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 that was returning my clangs.”
“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 faded away. Needless to say, I got out of there fast!”
The USS Forrestal Gets a New Home
The Forrestal was moved to Florida to become a navy historical museum. Yet, according to an article in the Associated Press, 1988, it seems that the resident ghosts went with the carrier.
Sold for Scrap in 2014
The prohibitive cost of keeping the Forrestal as a museum started piling up. In 2014, unable to raise the required funds, the Forrestal was towed to Delaware for a time. Ultimately, the carrier was moved to Brownsville, Texas, and dismantled for scrap.
Sailors and those who sail the oceans are highly superstitious. It couldn’t have been easy sailing on such a huge vessel that was purported to be haunted.
When the U.S.S. Forrestal was scrapped, it was a sad end for such a magnificent, but troubled aircraft carrier.
One final thought: Perhaps lost to history are many of the brave men who served and died on the Forrestal. Whether moved on from the Forrestal to a heavenly place, we salute you for your brave service.
*The food freezer area was never used as a morgue according to a recent comment. However, most sources say that it was–at least for a time.
Ghost Ships, by Richard Winer, Berkley Books, New York, 2000
Fire, Fire, Fire on the Flight Deck, by Kenneth V. Killmeyer, 2018
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You may be interested in: Wikipedia: Ghosts
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