Once Upon the Brine
Life at Sea and Ashore in the
Canadian Navy during the Cold War
On 23 October 1969 HMCS Kootenay suffered
the worst peacetime accident in the history of Maritime Command (MARCOM) or
the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) when one of her gearboxes exploded during full
power trials off the coast of southern England. The explosion and the ensuing
fire killed 9 crew members and injured at least 53 others. The following is a
firsthand report by a Kootenay Survivor.
My name is Douglas Moore, a retired Chief Yeoman of Signals. My naval career
was from 1957-85. A very vivid event happened when I was sailing on HMCS
Kootenay – one that will always be with me. That was the Kootenay explosion.
I was part of Squadron staff and it was just a fluke that I had just gone on
watch in the Ops Room. I was a Leading Seaman at the time. My shift started
at 7:50 and at approximately 8:25 we heard a lot of commotion. No one on
watch knew what had happened. Some people in the Ops room left and went to
Eventually there were only three of us left in the Ops Room and after a short
time we could smell smoke. Kind of made us think it was an exercise like
having the Sea Training Team onboard. About 20 minutes later I remember
saying to the two Radar Plotters “we’d better get the Hell out of here” and
we all headed for daylight.
I cannot remember where the plotters went but I went to the bridge. I can
still see the Engineering Officer (EO) in his white coveralls or should I say
‘soot covered’ coveralls. He was reporting to the Commanding Officer, Cdr.
The thing that I shall always remember about that is when he saluted the C.O.
the skin from his hand and arm was hanging down a good six inches. It was
kind of eerie and I remember wondering how did he ever manage to muster up
the courage to make it to the bridge and make his report. I found out later
he and two others were hit with a fire ball of extreme heat. One other person
was on the fo’c’sle. The sailors there were holding this individual down. He
was screaming “throw me over – throw me over”. I later found out it was Able
Seaman Dinger Bell (stoker) who I have been in touch with lately.
Shortly after witnessing the EO make his report I left the bridge and went
out onto the flag deck. I couldn't believe what I was seeing – the black
thick smoke that was billowing out of the stacks. I thought for sure we were
going to sink or blow up. Lots of different things started to happen in order
to put the fire out, however I remained in the bridge area as I was on watch
until I was ordered to proceed to the fo’c’sle to help unload foam.
There were nine deaths concerning the incident – eight on the ship and one
who later passed away on the aircraft carrier Bonaventure from smoke in the
It took quite a while to put out the fire because they could not reach the
shut off valves but finally in the end they were shut off.
I can remember the ship was sailing in circles and we where quite a ways from
the fleet, however after some time we were spotted and the fleet went into
By this time I was on the fo’c’sle unloading cargo nets full of 5 gallon cans
of foam. There was a helicopter fore and aft unloading, two more waiting, and
two others back at the Bonnie loading. It was a steady stream. The fire was
finally put out and we headed into Plymouth,
When we were in port I was part of the cleaning crew – scrubbing down
bulkheads, etc. I was also part of the crew who went into the Engine room to
help carry out the stokers who had perished. I cannot shake that part from my
The Squadron Commander eventually sent his staff home but before departing I
ended up being part of the funeral service.
Until I leave this earth I will never forget it. If I hadn't just gone on
watch I may have been caught in the Burma Road
or in the cafeteria and part of the events I saw unfolding before me.
This whole incident happened the 23rd October 1969 and it did not effect me
until some time in February the next year.
I consider myself very very lucky to be a Kootenay Survivor.