415. A Hazardous Workplace

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Level: Hangar Deck

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Even in peacetime, an aircraft carrier like Intrepid is a dangerous place to work.

Video: Intrepid Animated Oral History

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For an audio-described version, use the video below

Collection Connection

Cartoon drawing of a sailor burned and startled by a hot piece of metal he grabbed out of the scrap box. The sailor says “I’ll bet Spoiler put that in!”
“Spoiler Never Cools Metal Before He Puts It in the Scrap Box,” ca. 1943

During World War II, the U.S. Navy displayed posters to educate sailors about safety. The Aviation Training Division created two blundering cartoon characters—Dilbert the pilot and Spoiler the mechanic—whose carelessness endangered lives and equipment. In this cartoon, an unsuspecting sailor burns himself on a piece of hot metal that Spoiler had tossed into a scrap box.

Collection of the Intrepid Museum. Gift of Thomas D. Forsyth in honor of John F. Forsyth. A2013.200

Learn More: The Danger Zone

Many assume that the crew members who died serving on Intrepid were killed by a foreign enemy. While Intrepid lost over 150 men in combat during World War II and the Vietnam War, more than 50 died in accidents.

An aircraft carrier is a dangerous workplace even in peacetime. From flight deck to engine room, the ship is full of heavy machinery, powerful weapons and volatile chemicals. Intrepid’s sailors and officers took safety seriously. The ship ran drills to prepare crew members to respond to fires, floods and nuclear accidents. 

Still, crew members died in accidents on nearly every deployment. Aviation sustained the most casualties. Pilots crashed most often on takeoff and landing. Deck crew were struck by propellers, crushed by planes or washed overboard. Other dangers lurked below deck. Toxic gasses released by rotten food and a ruptured pipe killed three. One sailor died falling down an elevator shaft. Another was electrocuted.

The crew depended on one another to follow safety procedures—and for rescue when those safety measures failed. Sailors responded quickly in emergencies to save the lives of their shipmates. Sometimes, in doing so, they lost their own.

Flooding is a serious risk on Navy ships. A burst pipe or a breach in the hull can quickly escalate into a life-threatening emergency. This is especially true on submarines, where sailors are a few inches away from the bone-crushing pressure of the deep sea. Therefore, the Navy invests in preparing sailors for a flood. Many sailors get hands-on experience in damage control “wet trainers.” 

The USS Buttercup is one of several wet trainer models used by Navy and Coast Guard schools. Buttercup replicates a slice of a Navy vessel. Sailors practice repairing a leak in realistic conditions—in the dark, with water rising quickly around them. Training in a simulator prepares sailors for the chaotic conditions of an actual emergency.

At submarine school in Groton, Connecticut, damage control training is mandatory for all aspiring submariners. Close quarters and a small crew mean every person on the boat needs to be prepared to respond to any emergency. The submarine school has a wet trainer built to resemble the interior of a submarine. Every sub school graduate must patch leaks and seal pipes before the wet trainer floods. In addition, submariners practice fighting fires using specialized equipment and exiting an escape trainer submerged in 40 feet of water.

Panel Photo: This is a description of the image printed on the panel for this stop at the museum.

Photo description: An A-1 Skyraider on the flight deck of USS Intrepid. The plane is tangled in a crash barrier net. Three crew members are climbing over the plane.

Caption: An airplane tangled in a crash barrier net, 1966.

Credit: Gift of the family of Tom Patton and Teresa Ingerson. P2014.110.25


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