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Dec. 17, 1976: Split in two, the 810-foot Liberian oil tanker Sansinena burns in San Pedro in Los Angeles Harbor after an explosion aboard rocked the coast, shattering windows in Costa Mesa, 21 miles away.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Jack Gaunt / Los Angeles Times

Dec. 17, 1976: Sheets of flame light the sky as firefighters pour water on the inferno caused by the explosion of the Sansinena. This image was one of three published on the Los Angeles Times Page One on Dec. 18.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Dec. 17, 1976: An truck sits overturned by the explosion of the tanker Sansinena, whose bow is in background. The pickup truck was about 50 feet from the midsection of the ship.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Hodge / Los Angeles Times

Dec. 20, 1976: U.S. Coast Guard divers prepare to search the water around the Sansinena.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Dec. 18, 1976: Two men apparently escaped unharmed from a small shack housing a computer console for unloading operations at pier. The superstructure from the Sansinena flew over the shack and sits behind.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cal Montney / Los Angeles Times

Dec. 27, 1976: A worker waters down a bridge section of the Sansinena. To the right of the worker is the main deck.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Marilynn K. Lee / Los Angeles Times

Dec. 28, 1976: Aerial view of the Sansinena wreckage with oil spill and containment equipment deployed.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Peter Brandt / Los Angeles Times

Jan: 12, 1977: Bow section of the Sansinena being cut up by salvage barge.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

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Inferno in the harbor

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Inferno in the harbor

Dec. 17, 1976: A helicopter searchlight illuminates wreckage in Los Angeles Harbor after an explosion aboard the oil tanker Sansinena. The nighttime blast split the 810-foot vessel in two and rocked the coastline, shattering windows in Costa Mesa 21 miles away. Six crewmen died and more than 50 people were injured. Two crewmen and a dock security guard remain missing.

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 One lead art the next morning.

Staff photographer Robert Lachman remembers feeling the blast while eating dinner in The  Times’ 10th-floor cafeteria at First and Spring Streets in downtown Los Angeles. After rushing to the scene, he took the second photo in the above gallery using a slow exposure with a tripod mounted Nikon F.


  1. December 17, 2010, 6:40 am

    … and Keyser Söze got away!

    By: norm
  2. December 17, 2010, 10:43 am

    "And like that, he's gone,"

    By: Guest
  3. November 16, 2012, 3:30 pm

    Black and white in wow.

    By: IGTARD

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