Leonardo, NJ Nike Missile Explosion, May 1958

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Middletown, N.J. (AP) -- Investigators searched a Nike base near here today in an effort to learn what caused eight fully armed missiles to blow up in a furious mushroom of fire and death.
The explosion yesterday killed 10 persons and scattered explosive warheads across a wide area of the countryside.
The disaster, described by a general as an accident that could not happen but did, was set off by a single missile that exploded.
A split-second chain reaction turned the entire area into a flaming pit of destruction that one eyewitness called horrible beyond belief.
Mangled bodies and fragments lay strewn about where a moment before men had stood. The disintegration of the victims made it difficult to establish identities of all.
Three others were injured, one seriously.
The dead included six soldiers and four civilians.
Military Victims:
Civil Corps Civilian Victims:
Two servicemen in a 20-foot-deep pit under a missile's launching pad miraculously survived the holocaust.
Staff Sgt. JOSEPH W. McKENZIE, 33, a launcher section chief from Framingham, Mass., stepped from the pit unhurt. His partner, Pfc. JOSEPH ABOTT, 24, Grindstone, Pa., was treated for shock and hysteria.
The missiles, known as the Ajax type, exploded at about 1:20 p.m. while a team of experts was working on them. They were to be replaced next year by Hercules missiles capable of carrying atomic warheads.
Each of the Ajax missiles carried three conventional warheads of explosives and shrapnel.
Most of the explosive devices were accounted for, but some had still not been located today.
Duff said ordnance experts had found that all of the eight missiles had left the launching area, flying various distances.
A 12-foot section of one missile landed in a back yard three-quarters of a mile away.
Patrolman Daniel Murdoch, one of the first at the scene, told of "the horror of seeing men, their bodies still afire, and the head of at least one of the men blown away by the force of the explosion."
The Army flew in three inspectors from the office of the chief of ordnance in Washington to investigate the explosion. What set it off may never be known.
Residents of this area had protested in vain against erection of the installation 18 months ago. The Army had told the public no such accident was possible and that the missiles would only be fired in case of war.
Windows were shattered and doors blown in a mile or more from the explosion scene. One woman was blown out of a chair in the living room of her home.
The Ajax, about 32 feet long and a foot in diameter, weighs about a ton and is designed to bring down enemy aircraft at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet. It has a range of 15 miles.

Chester Times Pennsylvania 1958-05-23


My father was the Middletown

My father was the Middletown Business Administrator at this time, only on the job for a few days when this occurred. He left the Middletown Township town hall office in the morning to attend a Administrators conference in Asbury Park. He told his secretary to contact him if anything required his attention during the day, never hearing from her even after the tragedy occurred. It turns out the the township office had only one phone line for the Police department and she had to help in manning the phone all day, as it was inundated with phone calls after the explosion. Upon my fathers return to Middletown in the afternoon he was perplexed as to why Route 35 in Middletown was manned with police - The officers stopped him and after he identified himself they explained the situation and waved him through to the Nike site - He was shocked and saddened at what he saw. Living in Newark and commuting to Middletown at the time, he made sure he got to work extra early the next day and as he said, "Good thing I did, there were reporters all over the place...". Upon arrival, then Mayor Blaisdell quickly grabbed my dad and asked if he could right him a statement because he needed to brief the reporters. in addition, my dad told me that one of the Nike battery soldiers had successfully detonated one of the missiles after it was inadvertently launched, perhaps saving additional lives.

My youngest brother was in

My youngest brother was in daycare on the hill east of the site. Fortunately, the heavy drapes were closed and none of the children were injured. I was in 8th grade science class at the former high school on Leonardville Rd on the other side of the hill. We heard two distinct explosions. Our teacher insisted it was a sonic boom, but two of us were into aviation and, given the proximity of NAD Earle and the history of that facility that had experienced a devastating ship explosion in the late 1940's, we thought it was something else. A couple of my classmates had warheads removed from their property.

You probably saw it so

You probably saw it so clearly because you paid more attention to what was out the window of that school than the spelling class you were taking.

1958 niki base explosion middletown nj

actually took place at the corner of sleepy hollow rd. and kings highway an old sheep farm. I was out the back door of the new one year old bayview school when I THAOUHT THE RUSSIANS WERE ATTACKING , the noise of the explosion, the debre ,which one peace landed on the school roof, i was so scared, the hughe yellow,brownish mushroom that went so high into the syi,ther was nothing else for me to think that we were under attac by the russians, my father was one of the pepole recovring body parts and his discriptions are to horrible todiscribe . it is atime in my life that i will never forget and i still pray for all the losses

Nike explosion

I lived on Washington Avenue in Leonardo, NJ - two blocks from the railroad tracks that lead out to the pier where this explosion occurred. I have a very clear recollection of sitting on the living room floor watching my mother iron and seeing the blinds and window shades come off our windows and hearing glass upstairs breaking, then everyone on the block coming out of their houses to see what happened. I was 10 years old. I remember my father coming home from work early to see if we were okay.