7 Sailors Killed After Navy Destroyer Collided With Container Ship
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship over the weekend off the coast of Japan. Seven sailors were killed, and others were hurt, including the ship's commanding officers. Both vessels involved in the accident made it back to port under their own power. Work is just getting underway to understand what happened. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is in the studio now. Hey there, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: Please tell us more about the victims.
BOWMAN: Well, the Navy released their names today, the seven sailors who died aboard the Fitzgerald apparently still in their bunks. They're all - they're from all over the country. Most were in their 20s except for the youngest one, Dakota Rigsby. He was just 19, and he was a volunteer firefighter in Lake Monticello, Va. A fellow firefighter, Farrah Brody, remembered him.
FARRAH BRODY: Here was always sending me pictures and things that he found in Japan. Or I'm going to miss, you know, watching him play basketball. I mean he was a good kid. He gave the shirt off his back.
BOWMAN: And 4 of the 7, Audie, were either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Truong Huynh was a Vietnamese-American from Connecticut. Shingo Douglass grew up in Okinawa before heading to California. Then there was Noe Hernandez, who came to Texas from Guatemala. He leaves a wife and a 3-year-old son. And then Carlos Victor Sibayan was from the Philippines. His father recently retired from the military. Now, the oldest was 37-year-old Gary Rehm. He planned on retiring from the Navy in just three months.
CORNISH: Tom, when's the last time the Navy had an incident like this that was this serious?
BOWMAN: Well, for a collision like this, you have to go back more than 40 years to 1975. The cruiser Belknap collided with the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy in the Mediterranean. Eight sailors died, 7 sailors killed on the Belknap and one on the Kennedy. An investigation found the Belknap's officer of the deck, a junior officer, guilty of negligence. But it also shows you, Audie, an investigation like this can change things.
Now, the Belknap was made partly of aluminum, so the superstructure, the part above the deck, was aluminum, and it all burned down to the deck. After that, the Navy decided to build ships like the Fitzgerald out of steel. Now, if the Fitzgerald had an aluminum superstructure, people I talked with say that death toll might have been higher.
CORNISH: So what do they know about what might have caused this accident with the Fitzgerald. Do we know when we might even get some idea about that?
BOWMAN: Well, no sense yet on the cause. I'm told the investigation will likely take months. What we do know at this point is that the container ship sailed past the Fitzgerald, and then the container ship doubled back and struck the Fitzgerald, kind of T-boned it, hit it broadside. Pictures show the containership with a pretty seriously damaged bow.
CORNISH: And I know some questions have been raised about whether there would have been sailors on watch aboard a destroyer like this.
BOWMAN: There are always sailors on watch. You have about a half a dozen sailors and officers on the bridge, others on watch around the ship and still others below deck in what's called the combat information center - so a lot of eyes. I spoke with a couple of retired officers who said you're likely going to see multiple levels of failure here, including a failure by the Fitzgerald's crew to take corrective action when that container ship was bearing down on them. One retired admiral told me there should have been enough time to turn the Fitzgerald, which is pretty maneuverable, and get out of the way of the container ship. Why that wasn't done will be a key question of the investigation.
CORNISH: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks so much.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie.
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