Seven iden­ti­fied in fa­tal ship col­li­sion, seven sailors miss­ing af­ter ac­ci­dent

Crash hap­pened off coast of Ja­pan in early morn­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY MARI YA­M­AGUCHI AND TAMMY WEB­BER

YOKO­SUKA, JA­PAN | The U.S. Navy iden­ti­fied Mon­day the seven sailors who died when their de­stroyer col­lided with a con­tainer ship off the coast of Ja­pan on Satur­day.

Seven crew mem­bers were un­ac­counted for af­ter the col­li­sion flooded berths with sea­wa­ter. Navy divers re­cov­ered the bod­ies af­ter the se­verely dam­aged USS Fitzger­ald re­turned to a Navy base in Yoko­suka, Ja­pan, aided by tug­boats.

Ear­lier, the mother of a sailor who sur­vived a di­rect hit to his sleep­ing berth dur­ing a col­li­sion at sea said her son kept div­ing to try to save his ship­mates un­til the flooded berth be­gan run­ning out of air pock­ets, while oth­ers — be­liev­ing the ship was un­der at­tack — hur­ried to man the guns.

Mia Sykes of Raleigh, North Carolina, told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Sun­day that her 19-year-old son, Bray­den Harden, was knocked out of his bunk by the im­pact, and wa­ter im­me­di­ately be­gan fill­ing the berth, af­ter the USS Fitzger­ald col­lided with a Philip­pine-flagged con­tainer ship four times its size off the Ja­panese coast.

The ships col­lided about 2:20 a.m. Satur­day, when the Navy said most of the 300 sailors on board would have been sleep­ing, and au­thor­i­ties have de­clined to spec­u­late on a cause while the crash re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ms. Sykes said her son told her that the men sleep­ing on bunks above and be­low him died, while three died in the berth above his.

“They did what they were trained to do,” said Ms. Sykes, who said she hopes her son, from Her­rin, Illinois, can come home to be with family as he works through what hap­pened. “You have to re­al­ize most of them are 18, 19 and 20-year-olds liv­ing with guilt. But I told him, ‘There’s a rea­son you’re still here and make that count.’”

The Ja­pan-based 7th Fleet iden­ti­fied the vic­tims on Mon­day as Gun­ner’s Mate Sea­man Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Vir­ginia; Yeo­man 3rd Class Shingo Alexan­der Dou­glass, 25, from San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia; Sonar Tech­ni­cian 3rd Class Ngoc T. Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Con­necti­cut; Gun­ner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Her­nan­dez, 26, from Wes­laco, Texas; Fire Con­trol­man 2nd Class Car­losvic­tor Gan­zon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, Cal­i­for­nia; Per­son­nel Spe­cial­ist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Mary­land; and Fire Con­trol­man 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio.

Vice Adm. Joseph Au­coin, the com­man­der of the Navy’s 7th Fleet, also de­scribed a har­row­ing scene as other sailors fought to keep the ship from sink­ing. Most of the dam­age is be­low the wa­ter­line, in­clud­ing a large gash near the keel, Adm. Au­coin said.

“So the wa­ter flow was tremen­dous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spa­ces that were open to the sea. And as you can see now, the ship is still list­ing, so they had to fight the ship to keep it above the sur­face. It was trau­matic,” Adm. Au­coin said.

The Navy called off the search for seven miss­ing sailors Sun­day af­ter divers found a num­ber of bod­ies in the ship’s flooded com­part­ments, in­clud­ing sleep­ing quar­ters, Adm. Au­coin said at a news con­fer­ence at the 7th Fleet’s home base in Yoko­suka, Ja­pan.

He said one ma­chin­ery room and two berthing ar­eas for 116 crew mem­bers were se­verely dam­aged from what he called a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact to its side. The de­stroyer re­turned to Yoko­suka on Satur­day evening with the help of tug boats.

The vic­tims might have been killed by the im­pact of the col­li­sion or drowned in the flood­ing, said Navy spokesman Lt. Paul Newell, who led the me­dia on a visit to get a first­hand look at the man­gled de­stroyer.

“The dam­age was sig­nif­i­cant,” he said. “This was not a small col­li­sion.”

The Fitzger­ald’s cap­tain, Cmdr. Bryce Ben­son, was air­lifted from the ship’s deck af­ter day­break Satur­day to the U.S. Naval Hospi­tal in Yoko­suka with a head in­jury. Two other crew mem­bers suf­fered cuts and bruises and were also flown out by he­li­copter.

Adm. Au­coin wouldn’t spec­u­late on the cause of the col­li­sion and would or­der a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Con­di­tions were clear at the time of the col­li­sion, though the area is par­tic­u­larly busy with sea traf­fic.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Seven sailors were iden­ti­fied as dead af­ter the USS Fitzger­ald col­lided with a con­tainer ship off the coast of Ja­pan. Vice Adm. Joseph Au­coin, Com­man­der of the U.S. 7th Fleet, de­scribed a har­row­ing scene as sailors fought to keep the ship from sink­ing.

The con­tainer ship ACX Crys­tal with its left bow dented af­ter col­lid­ing with the USS Fitzger­ald. The ships crashed at about 2:20 a.m., when most sailors were asleep.

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