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Rucker Law Firm, PLLC is a personal injury firm located in Houston, Texas. Practice areas include car, truck, and other vehicle accidents, Jones Act injury cases, oil industry injuries, slip and fall, dog bites, and wrongful death.

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On September 26, 1961, at approximately 3:10 p.m., the USNS Potomac arrived an an aviation fuel terminal in Morehead City. The facility was located on Radio ...

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Fire Editor
Comment by Tony Thomas on April 28, 2012 at 3:51pm

Great video Craig and the information you supplied about it. My dad said he remembered it as well.


Fire Editor
Comment by Craig Taylor on April 28, 2012 at 9:34am

I found this video of the explosion of the USNS Potomac in 1961 at the fuel docks on Radio Island which is between Beaufort and Morehead City,N.C. I am from Beaufort and I can remember feeling the shock wave and then we heard the explosion, we lived about 2 1/2 miles from the docks. Below is a report of the events leading up to the explosion and the aftermath of it.

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On September 26, 1961, at approximately 3:10 p.m., the USNS Potomac arrived an an aviation fuel terminal in Morehead City. The facility was located on Radio Island, across the Newport River channel from the state port. The 15,626-ton, 593-foot, civilian-manned T-5 tanker was anchored with its bow pointing north, toward the railroad and highway bridges that connected the island and mainland.
About 5:20 p.m., the Potomac began discharging its 101,000 gallons of cargo, which consisted of aviation gasoline and JP-5 jet fuel. Around 6:35 p.m., gasoline also started flowing overboard. The ship's port sea suction value was open, and fuel was flowing from it. The gasoline leaked into the channel, and spread in the direction of the bridges.

At approximately 6:45 p.m., a civilian port employee was parked on the bridge, waiting with other cars while a tug boat passed under the open drawbridge. He smelled the strong odor of a petroleum product. His car was parked about halfway between the open span, and the island. About the same time, the ship's Chief Engineer and Second Asst. Engineer were ashore at the aviation terminal, near the first storage tank. They smelled an usually strong odor of gasoline.

Meanwhile, three men in a 14-foot wooden boat were fishing near the railroad bridge. They also smelled the leaking fuel, that was now floating on the river's surface. As their eyes started burning and their breathing became difficult from the fumes, they untied their boat and headed under the trestle. As they approached the highway bridge, the boat struck a wire cable hanging in the water. The collision stopped their boat, which contained a lighted gasoline lantern in the bottom of the craft. There was a flash, and then a fire started. The three men jumped into the water, and were carried by the tide back to the railroad bridge. Each escaped safely.


Fire Editor
Comment by Craig Taylor on April 28, 2012 at 9:30am

The fire on the fishing boat occurred about 6:50 p.m. The flames ignited the gas in the water. In a matter of seconds, blue flames spread some 500 yards and reached the tanker. Within minutes, the bow section of the ship was enveloped in flames.

Having seen the flames spreading on the water, the ship's Engineer and Second Asst. Engineer boarded the vessel, and went straight to the engine room. The general alarm sounded as the two reached the engine room. With the watch personnel, they prepared to get the Potomac moving. The vessel's fire pump was started, and ventilation fans were secured. With the engine turning 60 RPM astern, the ship was rocked by a terrific jolt.

At 6:55 p.m., vapors in the forward empty tanks ignited, causing the first of two violent explosions. This intensified the fire aboard the ship. About ten minutes later, a second explosion occurred as vapors in the aft tanks ignited. The explosions sent burning gas and jet fuel into the water. Black smoke and boiling flames shot more than 1,000 feet into the dusk sky. The force of the explosion bent a warehouse at the nearby State Port Terminals, and even knocked people from chairs at the Morehead City police station two miles to the west. Click to enlarge:

Twenty of the 44 crewmen were aboard at the time of the explosion. On orders of the skipper, they abandoned ship using the gangplank, or by leaping into the water. One crew member was killed, a seaman later found floating fully clothed and wearing a life preserver. The second crew member, the Radio Officer, who had been directly above the fire in the wheelhouse, was never found. Another 24 seamen were injured, as were three fisherman who received first- and second-degree burns from the flaming fuel that shot several hundred yards by the explosion.

Seven crew members were rescued by the crew of the charter fishing boat Bonnie Too. It braved the blaze, came in close to the stern, and fished the men from the water. The seven were taken to the Morehead City waterfront, to an ambulance waiting by Capt. Bill's. Five other crew members were rescued by a 30-foot Coast Guard patrol boat from nearby Fort Macon. Helicopters soon also circled the scene, looking for survivors.

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