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Launched Aug 26 1996.

Book Review

by Ludwig Benner, Jr.

A Glimpse of Hell: The Explosion On The USS Iowa And Its Cover-up by Charles C. Thompson II, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York NY 1999 ISBN 0-393-04714-8

430 pp. (including Epilog, list of sources and Bibliography)

See also review of book with more investigation details

Early one Aril morning in 1989, during a routine training exercise in the Caribbean, the center gun in turret two of the recommissioned battleship USS Iowa blew up.

This extensively sourced and referenced book by a former gunnery officer describes events and circumstance aboard the ship prior to the explosion and the investigations that followed in extensive detail.

The Navy's investigation began hours after the explosion. By the time the Navy's report was issued in September, the investigation involved several Navy facilities, the FBI laboratories and the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, and the Naval Investigative Service, The Navy report was controversial - even before it was issued, and the subject of hearings by two Congressional committees. A report issued by the House Armed Services Committee refuted the Navy's conclusions, and criticised the investigation. After hearings disclosed many problems with the investigation, the Senate Committee on Armed Services asked the U. S. General Accounting Office (GAO) to seek a laboratory to conduct an independent assessment of the Navy's findings and associated conclusions. That led to a an independent technical investigation by Sandia National Laboratories, beginning about eight months after the explosion, to probe specific technical questions related to both recognized and unsuspected "causes" of the explosion. It also contradicted the Navy investigation.

For investigation process researchers, as well as practicing investigators, the book provides an informative catalogue and description of many investigation problems, and how they resulted in national controversy, media attention and eventually an apology for report conclusions by a top Navy officer.

The investigation problems include the type of investigation chosen, the selection of investigation personnel, the investigation method, the handling of site produced by the explosion, harm to the scene, mishandling of debris, witness selection and interviews, logic errors, unjustified conclusions, conflicts of interest, investigator bias, misrepresentations to witnesses, report format, report review processes, standards of proof, and simulation test design and management, among others.

The discussion of standards of proof for alleging actions by a crew member is most thought provoking when considered in the context of human error that results in loss of life. It is particularly pertinent in view of the Egyptair 990 crash investigation (as this is written).

Worthwhile reading. See additional comments about the book.