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1976: British warship blaze kills eight

VIDEO : 'Hellish' fires hamper rescue effort

A fire on one of the Royal Navy's latest guided missile destroyers has killed eight men.

The 23m HMS Glasgow was being fitted out at a shipyard near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, north-east England, and was due to start sea trials shortly.

It is thought the fire at Swan Hunter's Neptune yard was started by a welder's torch after gas had been leaking from an oxygen cylinder.

Six other shipyard workers were also injured in the blaze and an investigation into the cause has been launched by the factory inspectorate and Northumberland Police.

Thick smoke

Survivors reported hearing an explosion before the fire took hold and spread rapidly to three decks of the ship.

"The smoke was so thick that only people who really knew their way around had a chance to get out ... It all happened so quickly," said electrician John Moriarty.

Seventy fireman were called to the scene. Their commander, Norman Dodd, said it took them two hours to get control of the situation because of difficulties getting to the "seat" of the fire.

More than 500 men were working on the 3,500 ton destroyer, but it is believed only one gangplank was in place allowing people to get off the ship, as the other was being repaired.

The deputy-chairman of Swan Hunter, John Steele, told reporters he could not comment on the lack of escape routes and said the fire authorities needed to complete their investigation.

In Context
A Health and Safety Executive investigation confirmed oxygen, which had been leaking all night from a supply line, helped cause a fire to be ignited by a welder's torch and burn more fiercely than normal.

The HSE blamed Swan Hunter Shipbuilders for not ensuring the oxygen pipes had been disconnected the previous evening.

But it also said ship workers failed to notice signs of leaking oxygen espite references in safety manuals and a film shown three times at the yard.

The report also recommended designers consider providing alternative methods of escape from ships during their construction.

HMS Glasgow was commissioned three years later and is on active naval service.


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