USS Saratoga CV60 “Death at Sea”


This is a true story that happened to me when I was in the Navy.

An announcement pierces across the 1MC Ships loudspeaker, “Man Overboard! Man Overboard!” It’s 11:30PM, December 22nd, 1990. I am in the Red Sea “Toto Station” onboard the USS Saratoga, an aircraft carrier. The ship just anchored for port call in Haifa Israel several hours earlier. I stayed aboard as my buddies went ashore that night. I was tired from the rigorous flight operations from the previous nights. So as they went ashore, I stayed behind and hit the rack for some shut eye. At approximately 11:30PM, I am awakened by the announcement screaming out, “Man Overboard! Man Overboard!” “All crew and officers muster in the hanger for roll call!”I get dressed and report for roll call. After roll call, I can hear jets flying overhead and helicopters. It’s December and the night air is frigidly chilly. I can feel it in my bones! I gather my foul weather jacket and dash rapidly to the flight deck to get a better view of the events.

The night sky is dark. The shore is dotted with sparkling lights off in the distance. Israeli jets are flying overhead and the ocean surface was dotted with flares shot from Israeli jets into the choppy, icy waters that separated the ship from land. The ship anchored 1.5 miles from shore and ferry boats carried the crew from ship to shore and back. This is how we are transported during port call because many ports in the Medditeranean are not equipped to handle ships the size of aircraft carriers.

As jets streaked through the midnight sky, I could feel the cold chill in the night sky chilling my bones through my foul weather jacket. There was a light foggy mist and the smell of salt was in the air. The situation seemed desperate. Soon word spread that one of the ferry boats returning from shore suddenly sank which was fully loaded with seamen! I was astonished at the news and immediately had concern for my buddies that had gone ashore several hours earlier.

NAVY Miguel

Miguel Bigueur on the flight deck of the USS Saratoga 1990

The next day, I awakened to an eery silence that was equally chilly as the temperatures in the icy waters surrounding the ship. It was 2 days before Christmas and we were in the holy lands. This silence was different! I could hear myself breathing. This was unusual because as the ship was made entirely of metal, the mere action of walking generates sound; the sound of seamen’s boondockers clacking against the metal deck is not easily silenced. I revisited the flight deck but this time I was greeted by the sightings of body bags lined up across the flight deck. As I looked up, I saw a gurney at the bottom of a rope dangling approximately 100ft below a helicopter. They were plucking the bodies out of the water. The gurneys were black and zipped shut but it was easy to see they were occupied with dead sailors. 23 sailors died that night. Men some of which I knew and worked shoulder to shoulder with during combat. They will be missed but never forgotten.

I often find myself often thinking about how I possibly avoided death that day. You see, my buddies that went ashore that night were next in line to board the ill fated ferry. They missed boarding the ferry by only a few people. Knowing how tired I was, we probably would have returned early and boarded that ill fated ferry. The thought stays with me till this very day and will for a long time to come.

NAVY Miguel 2

Miguel at the entrance to Plat/Lenz “Plane Landing And Takeoff” work center in 1990.

17 thoughts on “USS Saratoga CV60 “Death at Sea”

  1. Since last year I had to revisit in my mind the details of the Haifa drowning of our shipmates, and I have never forgotten that day. I was a cook that was assigned to duty at the last minute. I was supposed to have been on that boat too. One of my best friends was among the victims and he had a wife and child, Timothy Seay. We are among a group from Sara that will never forget the shipmates we lost that day..

    My wife is an OIF and OEF Veteran and she kept telling me to talk with the VA and I am working on it.

    Thanks for your service


  2. HI Miguel, I just ran across your site while doing some research for my service on board the USS Saratoga CV60. I too was assigned the the V-2 Division in the PLAT/Lens offices, except my tour was back in mid 80s coming out of dry dock in Philly. I am doing a VA Disability claim because I was exposed to PCB from a leaky electrical transformer there in the lounge at the PLAT area and was trying to remember the space number so I am glad I saw it on the plaque above the door in your pic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Miguel, I came across this site looking for information about my little brother, Timothy Jackson, he died that night on that ferry. I was explaining to my grandson about a uncle he never met. Thank you, for posting this, I search and can’t find no information about what like it don’t exist. He was only 20. Xmas hasn’t been the same since.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jennie, Sorry for your loss. I’m happy to share my story from that night with you as seen through my eyes. Although I didn’t know Timothy Jackson personally, his US Naval service to this country will never be forgotten. Thank you for posting.


    • I knew Timothy. He was in the same department ( Operations) but different division than me. I was an ET in OE Radar Division. He was in OE but one of the Fire Control divisions. We shared watch standing duties onboard the ship. He was a really quiet guy, but once he started talking, he was funny and you could tell that he enjoyed life.


  4. I was HM3 Thomas Valentine and I was the first medical responder to the aft platform. I and others did what we could to the few bodies that we had on the platform. I wrote a book about my involvement with that incident and how it practically destroyed my life afterwards. My book is called, “SCREAMS OVERBOARD” by Thomas Valentine and its on AMAZON. My goal is to bring awareness to this accident using my platform that I’m bringing. America has forgotten about this incident and I will not let that happen. Look me up on facebook @thomasvalentineauthor


    • I was also on board the Saratoga that horrible night. It has stuck in my head all these years. For most of the years after I wouldn’t talk about it at all.
      Thomas Valentine I ordered your book about a year ago. Although it brought back memories I’ve suppressed for years it was also very therapeutic. Well written Thomas Valentine!


  5. I was there also…..RM2 and had duty that night…..I do remember being in the hanger bay hearing mass casualty alarm…..Sent many messages out that night.


  6. Hi. My name is Rick. I was aboard the ferry when it sunk. It is about to be 30 years now and I still have difficulty talking about the events of that night. I am seeking others who were onboard when it went down. I am also looking for a nurse who treated my injuries and invited me to spend Christmas Eve with her family. I just want to say thank-you. If anyone would like to reach out, please feel free and leave a simple comment to my post below and I will be notified below.


    • Hi. Did you know Jose Montes from the AIMD shop? He was onboard that ferry and he survived as well. Although I was on the USS Forrestal during that period, Jose was a good friend of mine that I met at NAS Oceana where we were both based.
      – AD2 Joe Monteiro


      • Hi. I was on duty at the Israeli Navy BG who ran most of the rescue operations from Fleet Landing. A very sad and long 60+ hours where we tried so hard to rescue as many people as possible. So many years have past and yet the sights and sounds are still there, like yesterday.


    • I was onboard the ferry that night as well. I was snoozing on the way back to the shop. My buddy woke me up as it turned midnight to wish me a happy 21st birthday. Moments later we were both in the water. He went one way and I went the other. Hardest part was not knowing what happened to him. I was taken back to the ship after being in the water for almost an hour. Didn’t find out until the next day he was taken to shore. Think about this event every birthday.


  7. I remember the ferry disaster as it happened yesterday. I was the Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) for the ship and the Duty Admin Officer that evening. When the accident happened, I was on the bridge initiating the ships recall – turning the liberty lights on and off continuously to tell everyone ashore that they were all recalled to the ship. Mr. Imbach and myself had to initiate Naval message contact (since we had no internet phone until 3 months later) and notify the Pentagon that we had casualties. We spent the next 72 hours inventorying personal effects, cleaning dress blues for burial, preparing messages on each fellow Sailor, assigning escorts, preparing the remains for transport to Dover AFB to be embalmed, etc. Since Haifa had no morgue, we had no choice but to keep the remains of our fallen shipmates in body bags filled with ice until the transport plane arrived from Germany to fly them and the assigned escorts to Dover AFB before they were transported to their families back in the US. YN2 LeBlanc had those honors and did so with the upmost professionalism and respect for his shipmates. I am forever in his debt.
    Watching the events transpire from the fantail of Saratoga knowing there was nothing we could do – even though it was only 100 yards away was nerve wracking. The ensuing 72 hours of preparing the remains of our fellow shipmates for burial was even worse.
    I distinctly remember DK3 Timothy Seay who we worked with daily, as well as SM2 Delgado who lost is life saving two other Sailors that night and wasn’t able save himself.
    After 72 hours of non-stop work, we were able to get some sleep….while the ship was having a memorial service for our Sailors.
    A month after our loss, I had to compile all of the evidence from the disaster for the Commander, Sixth Fleet investigation. Although the investigation showed no one “at fault”; it was obvious to me what the problem was – I learned the contracted ferry boat had no bilge pumps to remove the water from the boat. It sank immediately after a 3 foot wave hit the boat sideways and we lost 21 of our guys. It should have never happened. Our “Ferry Boat Inspector” wasn’t able to ensure the safety of our crewmen without creating an international incident. He was forced to “sign off
    “ on the ferry boats whether he had reservations or not.
    Five weeks later we were at war and lost five airplanes and several pilots.
    I have never forgot that night in Haifa……


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