ABOARD USS JOHN S. MCCAIN IN THE PERSIAN GULF—One of the 12 Tomahawk missiles fired from this destroyer Friday night failed just after launch and nearly hit the ship's deck as it somersaulted into the water.
No one was injured. But two crew members and three photojournalists were on the deck as the missile spun wildly out of control just above their heads. All wore insulated firefighting uniforms, breathing equipment, and face and hand protection from fire.
The missiles fired from the McCain were part of a fusillade of 320 Tomahawks launched at targets in Iraq on Friday night from U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. They were timed to land at 9 p.m. Iraqi time (1 p.m. EST), in the first major wave of air assaults.
Officials who were aboard the McCain don't know what caused the missile malfunction, but said it could have been an engine problem.
The missile launched and its boosters fired. Then the missile began turning midway across the flight deck, where the two print photographers and one TV camera operator were working. It splashed into the water roughly 25 feet from the ship.
"All I remember is looking up and something didn't look right," said one of the photographers, Michael Perez of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I just curled up into a ball and tried to get close to the deck."
The other photographer and camera operator work for The Associated Press.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ+7