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U.S.S. Forrestal (CV 59)

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U.S.S. Forrestal CV 59 (Aircraft Carrier)

Forrestal, the lead ship of a class of four aircraft carriers, was the largest such vessel ever built at the time of its construction by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. Commissioned in October 1955, Forrestal would go on to serve the Navy for 38 years, spending the majority of its career in the Atlantic.

After initial operations near the east coast to train its crew and familiarize deployed aviation groups with its many advanced features, Forrestal deployed to the Mediterranean for service with the Sixth fleet in 1957, the first of many such cruises it would complete over its long service. Home ported in Norfolk, VA and deploying air groups from Mayport, Forrestal alternated between Mediterranean cruises, North Atlantic operations, fleet operations in the Caribbean, and in-port maintenance periods until 1963.

Forrestal successfully launched and received a modified C-130 cargo airplane in 1963 as part of a test to evaluate an aircraft capable of replenishing a carrier by air while underway. Although the tests were successful, giving Forrestal the record for the largest and heaviest aircraft ever to take-off and land on an aircraft carrier, the Navy chose not to deploy the C-130 for the purpose.

In 1967 Forrestal deployed to Vietnam, launching air strikes from Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin. On July 29, after four days of combat operations, an accidentally triggered missile on a staged aircraft ignited a fire on the flight deck. Ordnance and jet fuel on the flight deck ignited, as did other aircraft and the ensuing explosions and fire severely threatened the carrier’s survival. Firefighting efforts by the crew, and assistance by escorting destroyers finally brought the fires under control, but 134 Navy personnel lost their lives, with another 161 injured and the complete loss of 21 aircraft. Future US Senator John McCain was in an aircraft near where the conflagration began but escaped uninjured.

Forrestal underwent emergency repairs in the Philippines before returning to the United States, where the ship spent seven months being repaired in Norfolk. Forrestal would endure several fires over the remainder of its career, including at least one act of arson, earning the ship the derisive nickname “Zippo”.

Following repairs, Forrestal deployed in the Atlantic and for the remainder of its career took part in NATO exercises, Sixth fleet operations, and training exercises. In 1992 the ship was re-designated AVT-59 and underwent an extensive overhaul to prepare the vessel to replace U.S.S. Lexington as the Navy’s training carrier. This decision was overturned in 1993 when the Navy decided to decommission the aging ship instead.

Decommissioned and stripped to support other carriers, Forrestal was considered for use as a museum, as well as a possible donation to be sunk as an artificial reef. It is now scheduled to be sold for scrap.

Asbestos exposure on U.S.S. Forrestal

Forrestal was built at a time when the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company used asbestos in a wide variety of shipbuilding applications. As a conventionally powered aircraft carrier, Forrestal’s engineering spaces were filled with asbestos-containing materials, including boilers, gaskets, deck tile and bulkhead insulation.

Pipe insulation made from asbestos cloth covered pipes which wound their way throughout the ship, through berthing, dining and working spaces. One of the many fires Forrestal endured during its career began when fresh paint on steampipe lagging ignited.

The extensive use of asbestos was banned in the 1970s, but did not include the removal of existing asbestos-containing materials unless the material was being removed as part of other scheduled maintenance. The miles of insulated piping aboard a ship the size of Forrestal could not all be reinsulated at a single time. The likelihood of asbestos exposure on Forrestal, particularly during maintenance periods in the 1950s and 60s, would be high.

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