Navy Vet: Antarctic Mission Gave Sailors Cancer

Navy Sent Crews To Antarctica For 'Operation Deep Freeze' In 1960s

A retired San Diego sailor told 10News he knows why thousands of Navy veterans are suffering from or dying from cancer.

Bill Vogel said he believes the cancer many fellow veterans have been stricken with was caused by a mission to the Antarctic called "Operation Deep Freeze." Vogel said the mission was for scientific research.

10News learned at least 15,000 military personnel were a part of the mission over the course of nearly a decade and all of them worked near a malfunctioning nuclear power plant.

The McMurdo Nuclear plant was built in Antarctica in the early 1960s and provided power to the base until it was shut down in 1972.

The Navy's final operating report found the plant suffered from 438 malfunctions during its operation, including leaking water surrounding the reactor and hairline cracks in the reactor liner.

The plant was dismantled when "possible stress corrosion cracking" in the piping system was discovered.

The Navy's final report didn't find evidence of excessive radiation exposure.

Vogel's friend, Charlie Swinney, died a year ago from cancer. Swinney was one of many naval veterans who had similar concerns about their service at McMurdo after being diagnosed with cancerous tumors.

"Charlie had over 200 tumors in his body," Swinney's wife, Elaine, said from their Cleveland home.

"He kept saying, 'This isn't right. Why are there so many of us in this close group getting sick like this,'" she said.

Naval veteran Jim Landy lives in Pensacola, Fla., and fights stomach, liver and brain cancer.

"Word leaked out, we heard, that the soil around the facility was contaminated," Landy said.

10News learned the Department of Veteran Affairs denied medical coverage for some of the veterans who worked at McMurdo Station, including Charlie Swinney.

"Charlie just felt like he got kicked to the curb," Elaine Swinney said. “He felt like he didn't count. He felt betrayed."

"You owe them the truth of what happened," Vogel said. "Then you deal with the truth from that point forward."

To see the Navy's final operating report for the McMurdo Station nuclear power plant click here.

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