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'It was hell' : Ceremony marks anniversary of HMCS Kootenay explosion (6 photos)

On Oct. 23, 1969, HMCS Kootenay was taking part in sea trials off the coast of England when a blast on the naval ship killed nine crewmen and injured another 53

A ceremony was held in Point Pleasant Park Friday morning to mark the 51st anniversary of the Royal Canadian Navy's worst peacetime accident.

On Oct. 23, 1969, HMCS Kootenay was taking part in sea trials off the coast of England when a blast on the naval vessel killed nine crewmen and seriously injured another 53.

The explosion from Kootenay's starboard gearbox caused a fire to rip through the ship's engine room.

Ten people were in the room at the time, and Allan "Dinger" Bell -- who was 21 years old at the time -- was one of only three that would survive.

"It was hell," Bell told NEWS 95.7's The Rick Howe Show. "I just remember the blast, a noise and then you were on fire. It was almost that fast."

The air quickly filled with thick, black, oily smoke.

There was only one escape route - a 15-foot ladder that all ten men tried to scramble up at the same time.

"People dying in front of you and falling on top, dragging you down," he explained. 

"It was just like bowling pins, everyone would collapse at the bottom of the ladder, you get up and go back up, then it would happen again. It was a bad situation."

At the annual commemoration of HMCS Kootenay Day, Bell said he's still haunted by what happened that day.

"I try to get out of the engine room every day of my life. It's been 51 years, I still can't get out."

In a news release, Premier Stephen McNeil said the anniversary of the explosion has an increased significance in 2020.

"This year's recognition of the Kootenay disaster is especially meaningful with the loss of six of our military personnel in the Cyclone crash off the coast of Greece less than six months ago."


Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana and lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the editor for CityNews Halifax.
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