November 22, 1975, Aboard the USS Belknap (DLG-26) and USS John F. Kennedy


(CVA-67), 70 Miles East of Sicily, Italy


During night exercises the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy and the cruiser USS Belknap collided, lodging the Belknap's superstructure beneath the Kennedy's overhanging flight deck. The carrier's fuel lines were ruptured, spreading gasoline over the deck of the Belknap, which ignited and burned for more than two hours.


Although this accident is one of the best-known and well-documented nuclear weapons accidents, the presence of nuclear weapons on board the Belknap and the Kennedy have never been publicly acknowledged by the Navy or Pentagon. However, documents obtained by Greenpeace show that minutes after the incident occurred, the commander of Carrier Striking Forces for the Sixth Fleet sent a secret nuclear weapons accident message (a "Broken Arrow") to the Pentagon, warning of the "high probability that nuclear weapons aboard the Belknap were involved in fire and explosion."


The story has been corroborated by a retired admiral who was aboard the Belknap at the time of the accident. One of the ships that came to the Belknap's aid was the nuclear-capable frigate USS Bordelon, which collided with the USS John F. Kennedy a year later 75 miles north of Scotland. That ship's anti-submarine rocket (ASROC) container, where nuclear weapons would normally be held, was nearly crushed.