A memorial service and presentation was held on Kingston’s HMCS Cataraqui Sunday to honour the 50th anniversary of the explosion aboard HMCS Kootenay.
On Oct. 23, 1969, the worst peacetime accident in the history of the Royal Canadian Navy took place.
The destroyer was part of a task force exercising in U.K. waters before returning to Canada. But a gearbox explosion and ensuing fire spewing toxic smoke killed nine crew members and injured 53 others.
Ray Desrosiers was on board. The HMCS Kootenay survivor lives in Kingston.
“The emotions are still there, strong, so of course, we still feel we were there,” Desrosiers says. “We remember it. Next week I’ll be down in Halifax for the memorial service with my shipmates and I’m sure there will be a lot of very strong emotions. This is a very tough incident. Hard incident at the time.”
Desrosiers was one of between 15 and 20 people on-hand for the ceremony. Words of reflection, the last post, two minutes of silence as well as the reading of the names of those that died took place.
Desrosiers also addressed the crowd.
“When the explosion happened, you lost almost a quarter of your firefighter equipment right there, the rest of us were kind of left without access to the firefighting equipment that we needed to fight the fire because it was all inside the ship. This particular area of the ship was wide open, two hatches that were pouring out black oily smoke throughout the ship.
Desrosiers says nobody could see where they were going, they couldn’t find the equipment and they couldn’t have gotten to it anyway.
Lucky for those on board, he says, there were helicopters coming in from the HMCS Bonaventure and other ships bringing firefighting foam and personnel who could actually deal with the fire.
The Royal Canadian Navy’s damage-control training centre for Maritime Forces Atlantic was eventually named Damage Control Training Facility Kootenay in recognition of the incident.