John McCain was a central figure in one of the worst Navy fires in post-WWII US history.
There are several versions of this story. From the USS Forestal Museum web site:
At 10:52 A.M. on July 29, the second launch was being readied when a Zuni rocket accidentally fired from an F-4 Phantom parked on the starboard side of the flight deck aft of the island. The missile streaked across the deck into a 400 gallon belly fuel tank on a parked A-4D Skyhawk. The ruptured tank spew highly flammable JP-5 fuel onto the deck which ignited spreading flames over the flight deck under other fully loaded aircraft ready for launch. The ensuing fire caused ordinance to explode and other rockets to ignite. Spread by the wind, the flames engulfed the aft end of the stricken ship turning the flight deck into a blazing inferno.. Berthing spaces immediately below the flight deck became death traps for fifty men, while other crewmen were blown overboard by the explosion.
John McCain was in the pilot of the Skyhawk A-4D. This is where the facts get a bit hazy. From the Rock Creek Free Press:
It is believed by many crewmen and those who have investigated the case that McCain deliberately “wet-started” his A-4E to shake up the guy in the plane behind his A-4. “Wet-starts”, done either deliberately or accidentally, shoot a large flame from the tail of the aircraft.
In McCain’s case, the “wet-start” apparently “cooked off” and launched the Zuni rocket from the rear F-4 that touched off the explosions and massive fire. The F-4 pilot was reportedly killed in the conflagration. “Wet starting” was apparently a common practice among young “hot-dog” pilots.
So the story seems to be that McCAin wet-started his engine to scare the pilot behind him, which caused a Zuni missle to fire into his fuel tank. Evidently the bombs mounted on his plane were 1000 pound pre-WWII bombs placed on 500 pound mounts. At least one of these bombs fell off of its shoddy mount and ‘cooked off’ blowing a huge hole in the carrier deck which allowed a bunch of flaming jet fuel to pour into the decks below.
It seems there are several versions of this story. Some mention that McCain was the only healthy person immediately airlifted from the ailing carrier along with the wounded, attributing this to the general anger the crew had toward him. I think it is pertinent to mention that his father was the admiral in charge of the Pacific Fleet at this time.
Was John McCain was being all Mavericky (contributing to the deaths of 134 men and injuries of 161 more), or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time?