NORFOLK, Va. -- A civilian observer was killed when a radio-controlled target drone, riddled by fire from a 'last-resort' weapon, smashed into a Navy missile frigate.
James Goldsmith of West Palm Beach, Fla., who was standing aboard the USS Antrim near the point of impact Thursday, was rushed to the burn unit of Norfolk General Hospital, where he died several hours later, the Navy said.
The Navy identified Goldsmith as an instructor with the Program for Afloat College Education.
Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Dale Smith said the Antrim was in the Atlantic Ocean off the Virginia Capes, about 20 miles from Virginia Beach, testing its Vulcan-Phalanx weapons system when the accident occurred.
The Phalanx system is a rapid-fire, close-in weapons system similar to the 'Gatling gun' of the Old West. It can fire 3,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition in a minute. Smith called it a 'last-resort' weapon for use against incoming missiles.
Smith said the Antrim was testing the Phalanx against unmanned, jet-propelled 'missile simulator' drones about 12 feet long that weigh 514 pounds on the ground.
'The drone was hit by the Phalanx multiple times, but then the drone went uncontrollable,' Smith said. It skipped off the water and smashed into the right side of the ship's aluminum hull, tearing an 8-by-3-foot hole and starting a small fire, which was quickly extinguished.
Smith said the ship, based in Mayport, Fla., still was seaworthy, but would be taken out of service for repair immediately.