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Once Upon the Brine
Life at Sea and Ashore in the
Canadian Navy during the Cold War
(1946-1989)

Kootenay Survivor

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 the bridge.

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. Norton.

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 lungs.

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 action.

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, England.

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 head.

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.