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TAPLEY v. UNITED STATES

February 20, 1986

ARTHUR H. TAPLEY and BETTY TAPLEY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT; RAY L. LATHEM and SYLBA R. LATHEM, PLAINTIFFS v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOWARD

GEORGE HOWARD, JR.

 MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 After carefully considering the evidence proffered by the litigants, memoranda and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law submitted by counsel, the Court now makes its findings of fact as follows:

 I.

 1. An intercontinental ballistic missile located in Missile Complex 374-7, which is located 3.6 miles north of Damascus, Arkansas, developed a low pressure fuel condition, in the stage II oxidizer tank, on September 18, 1980. Air Force personnel, propellant transfer system team (PTS), consisting of eight individuals, all of whom were trained and qualified in the task to be performed except for Airman Plumb and Airman Aderhold, were dispatched to correct the problem. There had been a similar malfunction at least two days earlier.

 2. Airman Plumb was receiving on-the-job training under proper supervision. Airman Aderhold, who was not trained for the relevant task, was performing the function of "protective clothing" and "equipment support".

 Senior Airman David F. Powell, a team member, and Plumb went to "silo level 2 on lower maintenance platforms inside the launch duct . . ." Powell proceeded into the launch duct with a ratchet wrench and socket connected to each other as he found them when he arrived at the complex. *fn2" Powell did not examine the socket to determine if it were secured to the ratchet wrench.

 At the time, Air Force Technical Order 21M-LGM25C-2-12 of December 7, 1979, which became effective on April 2, 1980, required the use of a torque wrench and socket to remove the oxidizer vent pressure cap from the stage II oxidizer tank in the maintenance task. Prior to Technical Order 21M-LGM25C-2-12, as well as in the instant assignment, a ratchet wrench and socket were used.

 While in the process of fitting the socket on the pressure cap, the socket, weighing approximately nine pounds, disengaged from the ratchet wrench and fell through an opening between the platform segment, a deck for PTS team to stand on, and the missile striking a part of the missile, stage I, approximately 66 feet below, puncturing the missile and resulting in the emission of missile fuel "in a stream the size of a garden hose or larger." The PTS team, after reporting the leakage and activating the automatic detection and warning systems, evacuated the complex at approximately "midnight" and returned to the Little Rock Air Force Base.

 3. Rubber boots attached to the platform, which are flexible and were designed to fit against the missile, when a missile is being serviced or under maintenance, in order to prevent objects from falling into the missile well, were not in place. The rubber boots were folded down rather than horizontally against the missile.

 4. A second PTS team arrived at the complex, hours after the departure of the first team, wearing gas masks and protective clothing. The team obtained readings from the interior of the control center in order to determine the concentration of vapor in that area and to minimize any actual or potential hazards.

 5. The Titan II missile is powered by liquid propellants, hydrazine (UDMH) and an oxidizer, nitrogen tetroxide (N[2]0[4]). The Titan II missile consists of three stages, namely, stage I, stage II and the warhead. Stages I and II contain the propellants. Stage I, in the instant case, contained 11,300 gallons of UDMH and 13,500 gallons of oxidizer.

 UDMH is highly toxic and the fumes are flammable or explosive when in high concentration. However, when UDMH is diluted one part fuel with two parts water, the fuel becomes non-flammable. The oxidizer, N[2]0[4], when released into ...


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