HMCS Kootenay survivor receives Wound Stripe 49 years after engine room explosion

Navy News / March 1, 2019

By Ryan Melanson, Trident Staff

Nearly 50 years after being badly injured at sea as a result of the 1969 Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Kootenay explosion, a member of that ship’s company has been recognized for his sacrifice in service to his country.

Able Seaman (AB) (Ret’d) Allan “Dinger” Bell was awarded the Wound Stripe by Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), during a ceremony at Juno Tower on February 8, with his family and a number of former Kootenay shipmates in attendance.

AB (Ret’d) Bell was working inside Kootenay’s engine room on October 23, 1969, when a gearbox explosion occurred during full power trials off the coast of England.

He was one of only three sailors inside the engine room who survived the blast; nine men were killed in total, and more than 50 suffered burns or other injuries, as the explosion sent fire, smoke, hot oil and other dangerous substances throughout the ship.

AB (Ret’d) Bell himself had burns on more than half of his body, and required three surgeries through a difficult recovery process. The Kootenay explosion is now regarded as the RCN’s worst peacetime disaster.

In thanking him for his sacrifice and awarding him the Wound Stripe, VAdm Lloyd did not shy away from the fact the recognition has been long overdue, and he described the presentation as ‘righting a wrong.’

“The good thing is that, as an organization, we’ve been able to make great progress since the tragedy that took place in Kootenay,” VAdm Lloyd said, referencing the many changes to safety designs and protocols that came in the wake of the tragedy.

While the day was focused on remembering his own sacrifice, AB (Ret’d) Bell spoke mainly about his shipmates and their families after receiving his award.

He recalled his nine colleagues who died due to the explosion in 1969, along with the eight wives who lost husbands, and the 18 children who lost fathers on that day. Many of those who survived have struggled with Post-traumatic stress disorder for years because of what they witnessed and went through in the ship.

Those survivors, he added, are also worthy of recognition for their heroic actions in saving the ship and preventing an even greater tragedy from occurring.

A ceremony marking 50 years since the Kootenay explosion is being planned to take place at the Bonaventure Anchor Memorial in Point Pleasant Park on October 23 of this year.