Boston, MA Explosion On Aircraft Carrier LEYTE, Oct 1953

Leyte Carrier





Boston, Oct. 17. -- Naval intelligence and the FBI today probed through the wreckage of the huge aircraft carrier LEYTE in search for clues to the cause of the four explosions and fire that took 35 lives and injured 40 other persons.
Because some of the LEYTE'S below-decks compartments, torn by the blasts, could not be thoroughly searched, officials said there was a possibility that more bodies would be found on the ship.

Blackout On Probe.
The Navy clamped on a news blackout as the probe to determine the cause of the disaster began. The possibility of sabotage was not being ruled out, inasmuch as the entire ship had been inspected a short time before the first explosion.
The blasts and flash fires ripped the forward part of the 27,500-ton warship as she lay tied up yesterday afternoon at the South Boston naval shipyard annex.
Official comment was guarded, but naval officers said there appeared to have been nothing aboard the vessel, which was undergoing re-fitting, that could account for the disaster.
So quickly did the smoke and fumes of the fire spread through the ship that the skipper, Capt. THOMAS AHROON of Norfolk, Va., was forced to flee from his cabin by a hatchway because he could not get into the passageway without suffocating.
Physicians and priests who attended the dead and dying in the aircraft LEYTE disaster said today they were of the opinion that a majority of the victims suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.

Caught Below Decks.
Sailors and civilians were caught far below decks by the explosions and fire. They perished by flame, fumes, concussion and falling bulkheads and some may have drowned when the sprinkler system let loose a torrent.
It was the worst waterfront disaster in Boston's history and the worst peace-time tragedy for the Navy since the destroyer HOBSON was rammed with a loss of 175 lives in the Atlantic on April 26, 1952.
The fire fed on a rich diet of hydraulic fluid mixed with alcohol. Fuel pipe lines were tortured out of shape by concussion.
Every emergency ambulance in Boston and some suburbs was rushed to the scene within minutes after the extent of the disaster became known. The Red Cross appealed for blood donors and poured precious plasma into hospitals and dockside emergency wards to stave off the effects of shock and burns.
U.S.S. Aircraft Carrier LEYTE, victim of a mysterious series of explosions below decks at South Boston Naval Shipyard annex at 3:17 p.m. yesterday, is a veteran of Korean action.
At the time of the blasts there were 1,400 men aboard the vessel, which was in drydock for minor repairs. Her peacetime complement is 2,100 and she usually carries 83 airplanes.

Board Of Inquiry.
The Navy said a board of inquiry would convene Monday on the stricken vessel to determine the cause of the tragedy.
Three bodies were found in the port catapult room and seven others were piiled up in the No. 1 bomb elevator on the port side. The fire set off the ship's sprinkler system and men far below decks were trapped in flooding compartments.
The Navy said a full casualty list would be issued later today. Identification was difficult in many cases, since several of the victims were horribly mutilated in the explosion.
The injured were under treatment at the Chelsea Naval hospital, Carney hospital and Boston City hospital.

New Castle News Pennsylvania 1953-10-17


Leyte explosion in Boston

I was aboard the Leyte when the explosions took place. There were only two explosions, one major and one not as serious, although men died in the second explosion. I was in charge of a damage control party forward on the hanger deck. 36 men died, some personal friends. I was in the offical navy photo carrying the wounded from the ship in a gurney.

Leyte explosion...

My father, then Lieutenant Bill Hart, (now 87-years old) was the Senior Watch Officer on the Leyte when she exploded and believed the pin-hole hydraulic leak and welding cited by others as having been the cause. His roomate was killed instantly in the explosion moments after my dad left his stateroom for the wardroom. For some inexplicable reason, someone closed the watertight hatch (rather than just the hollow metal door) to the wardroom just before the explosion, an act that saved the lives of the officers gathered for a meeting there.

Leyte explosions.

It seems there is a lot of controversy about the explosions aboard the Leyte on October 16, 1953. From what I knew at the time, they were testing the steam catapults at 5, 000PSI, way too much as they use 500PSI today. It resulted in another explosion and fires. I was in charge of a damage control party on the forecastle but we were sent to the hanger deck to go below and bring out dead and survivors. Before we could get started down, the second explosion occured sending men through the hatches. Some of us were ordered to help get the wounded off of the ship which i did. I was in an official naval photo taking a wounded sailor from the ship. If anyone sees it, I'm the guy in the back with a white handkerchirf around my neck. To this day I believe the complete truth has not come out about the explosion.

Leyte explosion

My late uncle, Richard "Jake" Kambic, an aircraft bosun's mate, was serving on the Leyte when this happened. He was only a couple of years out of high school. He was waiting in line to get a haircut before heading out on liberty when he realized that he left his ID and wallet back at his bunk, so he told his buddy he'd be right back. When the explosion hit (so far as I was told, the cause of the explosion was a hydraulic line with a pinhole leak and one of the workers doing repair/refit work lit a welding torch, setting off the explosion), the force of the explosion lifted the flight deck into the air. When he went down as part of the search and rescue team, he saw his buddy who had been holding his place in the haircut line. His body was ripped in two. In some areas, the steel was white-hot. There were bodies that had to be scraped off the bulkheads with a shovel (sorry to be so graphic; I'm just telling the story the way I heard it). The navy gave him a medal for his heroics in the search and rescue operations, but it had a pretty bad effect on him. For years after the incident, the smell of frying hamburger made him physically ill. In 1962, nine years later, he was home on leave in Steelton, PA when a train carrying parents and kids to a Saturday Phillies game ran off the tracks at 70 miles per hour. Three cars filled with passengers rolled 40 feet down an embankment into the Susquehanna River. Due to his naval training, he went down and participated in the rescue effort.