Explosion 26 May, 1954
Bernard J. Luke
Tuesday, February 25, 2003 3:35 PM
Bennington Cruise May 1954
You don't know me however I do have a story to tell about the Bennington. I was in the Air Group, VC-12 to be exact. I remember the 0430 reveille the morning of the accident. That morning I wasn't hungry and didn't go to chow.
My duty station was in "Ready 3" where the pilots waited till launch time.
I sat to the duty officer's right manning the sound powered telephone. I still don't know why but I turned to him suddenly and asked him if I could go to the flight deck and watch the launch of the jets. He said yeah go ahead but get your butt back here before the props go because I'm not going to do your job. I'm busy doing my own job. I left ready 3, walked up 3 decks to the hangar deck and rode the escalator to the flight deck. There was a hatch that opened from the escalator to the flight deck in which I was standing watching the Cat Shots. I had been there maybe a minute when I felt jolt in my feet. I didn't pay a lot of attention to that incident, but I did to what happened next. Someone gave me a hard shove and ran through the hatch yelling about an explosion. There was a jet on the port cat that was running up power. The pilot shut down, the plane was moved to the starboard cat. I saw smoke eminating up around the edge of the flight deck along the cat track. Then I knew something serious had happened. I saw a man being assisted along the side of the island, his right sleeve was gone I thought. But is was skin hanging from his shoulder to his elbow. He was standing on an ammo elevator cover, there was another jolt and the hatch raised up an inch or more. I'm sure of the inch because I was starring at his feet and the blood dripping near his feet. He took off in a dead run with two men holding onto him. He would have run off the side of the flight deck and into the ocean if his shipmates handn't held him back. I turned to ride the escalator down to the hangar deck. I couldn't because the thickest black smoke one can imagine was blowing out of entrance to the escalator and into my face. I never did get back to my duty station in ready 3. I had no place to go so I watched the props and all of them were turning. I didn't see one person get injured. People were running between the props and crawling under them. I thought, well there goes my one carrier take-off and landing. I had begged and pleaded with one of the prop pilots in VC-12 to give me a ride. He finally said yes. Be ready tomorrow morning because I'll be doing some " touch-and-goes." You watch me, I'll signal to you and you run fast as you can and jump in. Wear a parachute but it won't be of much use. We'll be too low. We'll go around one, trap, you get out and run as fast as you can because I'll be going around again. Just remember that you get only one take off and one landing. I agreed but I never did get the take off and landing.I stood by the island and watched him take off a few minutes after the explosion and disappear over the horizon. A few days later I saw him at Quonset but he wouldn't agree to another flight. I was discharged from the Navy in March 1955.
There is more to this story. I couldn't get back to my duty station because of the smoke and also I think ready 3 was destroyed. If ready 3 wasn't destroyed, someone please tell me. I still remember him, he was a JG with light hair. I also remember the expression on his face when he told me to get my butt back because he wasn't going to do my job for me.
I wandered around the flight deck and everyone told me to get the hell out of the way. I couldn't find anyone from the squadron. There was a message on the PA system to man our abandon ship stations. My station was forward, port and where the black smoke covered the life raft. That wasn't so good and I strolled aft on the starboard and sat down right in the corner of the flight deck. Suddenly a crowd formed in the same area accompanied by a LTJG wearing a '45. He mustered the people, counted them ( I pretended to be one of them ) and said "we have one too many people." He looked at me and said, who are you. I identified myself and said that my abandon ship station is forward and in all that black smoke. He said for me to report there. I said no sir I just can't do that. He put his hand on the '45, I said go ahead sir but I'm not going to stand in that black smoke. He starred at me for a moment and then said the sweetest words I've ever heard ( except when my wife said she'd marry me. ) OK if we have to go you can go with us because these life rafts can carry a few more people then their certification states.
Bernard J. Luke, SR,AA,ADAN,AD3,BA,DDS.