msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/12/2004 9:29:03 AM ET 2004-03-12T14:29:03

A ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead was damaged in November while it was being removed from a submarine at a naval base near Seattle, a defense official said Thursday, speaking the condition of anonymity.

There was no release of any radioactive material, the official said. Military experts quoted in newspaper stories about the Nov. 7 accident said the chances of a nuclear explosion were extremely remote.

The incident involved a Trident I C-4 missile as it was removed from a missile tube on the USS Georgia. Details were first reported on a Web site run by a former Navy officer.

“When I heard about this I couldn’t believe it,” Walt Fitzpatrick said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Former officer first reported accident
Fitzpatrick, who has had a running feud with the Navy for years over a career-ending reprimand, said he developed his information from conversations with people familiar with the incident. He would not name his sources.

His allegations were reported in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Sun of Bremerton and the Washington Times.

Four officers were relieved of duty because of the incident at the Naval Submarine Base Bangor on Hood Canal, 25 miles west of Seattle, the newspapers reported.

Officials at the base were unavailable for comment when the AP tried to contact them Thursday.

As the 34-foot missile was being hoisted into a protective canister by the weapons handling crew, its nose cone reportedly was damaged.

Fitzpatrick said an access ladder left in the missile tube cut a 9-inch hole in the nose cone. Crew members reportedly left the ladder in place after attaching the hoist, took a break, then failed to remove it when they started to haul out the missile, he said.

Bush reportedly notified
Fitzpatrick said the ladder “came within inches” of impacting the live nuclear warhead.

President Bush was notified immediately of the “broken arrow,” incident -- a military code word alerting military governors of a nuclear weapons accident – he said.

Phyllis Mann, director of Kitsap County’s Emergency Management Division, said county and state records show no such incident was reported, as would be required.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., whose district includes the base, has contacted the Navy for a full briefing on the incident, a spokesman for the lawmaker said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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