From the Archives: The oil tanker Sansinena explodes in Los Angeles Harbor

Dec. 17, 1976: Smoke billows from the wreckage of the Sansinena after a massive explosion split the oil tanker in two in Los Angeles Harbor.
(Jack Gaunt / Los Angeles Times)

The nighttime blast on the oil tanker Sansinena in Los Angeles Harbor in 1976 split the 810-foot vessel in two and rocked the coastline, shattering windows as far away as Costa Mesa, 21 miles down the coast. Six crewmen died and more than 50 people were injured. Two crewmen and a dock security guard were never found and presumed dead.

The next morning's Los Angeles Times article by staff writer Richard West reported:

The explosion was so tremendous that it broke the 70,000 ton Sansinena in half, shoving the fore and aft sections 150 feet apart, and heaved the entire superstructure of the vessel up on the dock in San Pedro.

The blast at 7:40 p.m. was felt as far away as Dana Point, 45 miles to the south. It broke windows in Costa Mesa, 21 miles away and rattled dwellings in Glendale and the Hollywood Hills.

Days later, Coast Guard divers reported an 18-inch-deep layer of heavy oil on the harbor bottom.

Los Angeles Times staff photographer Jack Gaunt's smoking-ruins image of the Sansinena was Page 1 lead art the next morning.

Staff photographer Robert Lachman remembers feeling the blast while eating dinner in The Times' 10th-floor cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles. After rushing to the scene, he took the photo below using a slow exposure with a tripod-mounted Nikon F.

This article was originally published on Dec. 17, 2010.

Dec. 17, 1976: Sheets of flame light sky as firemen pour water on the inferno caused by the explosion of the Sansinena. This iimage was one of three published on Page 1 of the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 18, 1976.
(Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)
Dec. 18, 1976: Scene after the 810-foot tanker Sansinena exploded in Los Angeles Harbor. The superstructure of the ship was blown onto the dock, still smoking, at upper left.
(Art Rogers / Los Angeles Times)
Dec. 18, 1976: A Los Angeles Fire Department fireboat alongside stern of the tanker Sansinena during search of crew quarters.
(Fitzgerald Whitney / Los Angeles Times)
Dec. 18, 1976: Two men in a dockside shack that housed a computer control center apparently escaped unharmed when the superstructure of the Sansinena flew over the shack and landed behind it.
(Cal Montney / Los Angeles Times)
Dec. 18, 1976: Aerial view of San Pedro with the destroyed oil tanker Sansinena at bottom left. Oil storage tanks are on right and Ft. MacArthur on upper left.
(Art Rogers / Los Angeles Times)
Feb. 13, 1975: The 810-foot Sansinena ran aground in Los Angeles Harbor the year before the explosion.
(Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)
Dec. 18, 1976: An truck overturned by the explosion of the tanker Sansinena, whose bow juts skyward in background.
(Bill Hodge / Los Angeles Times)
Dec. 20, 1976: U.S. Coast Guard divers prepare to search the water around the Sansinena.
(Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)
Dec. 27, 1976: A part of the bridge section of the Sansinena is sprayed with water. The main deck is to the right.
(Marilynn K. Lee / Los Angeles Times)
Dec. 28, 1976: Oil spill containment equipment deployed around the Sansinena wreckage.
(Peter Brandt / Los Angeles Times)
Jan: 12, 1977: The bow section of the Sansinena being cut up beside a salvage barge. This photo appeared in the Jan. 13, 1977, Los Angeles Times.
(Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times)
Feb. 19, 1977: The remaining 1,217-ton bow section of the Sansinena is towed to a Terminal Island scrap yard.
(William C. Rempel / Los Angeles Times)

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