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Navy recovers, names 7 sailors killed in crash

Alert crew saved ship, admiral says

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Photographs by AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Damaged part of USS Fitzgerald is seen at the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo Sunday, June 18, 2017. Navy divers found a number of sailors' bodies Sunday aboard the stricken USS Fitzgerald that collided with a container ship in the busy sea off Japan, but a spokeswoman said not all seven missing had been accounted for.

YOKOSUKA, Japan -- The U.S. Navy has identified the seven sailors who died when their destroyer collided with a container ship off Japan on Saturday.

Navy divers recovered the bodies from flooded berths after the severely damaged USS Fitzgerald returned to a Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan, aided by tugboats.

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

Earlier, the mother of a U.S. Navy sailor who survived a direct hit to his sleeping berth during the 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, N.C., told The Associated Press on Sunday that her 19-year-old son, Brayden Harden of Herrin, Ill., was knocked out of his bunk by the impact, and water immediately began filling the berth after their destroyer 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.

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

"They did what they were trained to do," said Sykes, who said she hopes her son 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.'"

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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, 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," Aucoin said.

Aucoin 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 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.

"He's lucky to be alive," Aucoin said of Benson.

The damage could have sunk the Fitzgerald, he said, but for the quick action of the crew.

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

The damage to the destroyer suggests that the container ship, the ACX Crystal, might have slammed into it at a high speed, raising questions about communication between the two vessels in an area where as many as 400 ships pass through every day, according to Japan's coast guard. Most congestion occurs in the early hours of the day, and fast currents make it a tricky area that requires experience and skill to navigate.

Masayuki Obara, a Japanese coast guard official, said the coast guard was interviewing the crew of the ACX Crystal to determine, among other things, whether negligent piloting by either side contributed to the collision.

The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tons and is 730 feet long, much larger than the 8,315-ton destroyer.

The container ship's left bow was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage when it was docked in the Tokyo bay late Saturday.

But on Sunday, a group of accident investigators from the Japanese Transport Ministry found damage to the container ship that had been hidden under the waterline when it arrived in Tokyo the previous night. Footage from Japanese broadcaster NHK showed a sharp horizontal cut across the bow area, which looked like a shark's mouth. Many scratches were also seen in the frontal area.

The container ship was seen making a U-turn before the collision on some ship trackers, a move that has raised questions about what happened. Both Aucoin and the Japanese coast guard, however, said it was too early to determine what led to the collision.

All members of the ACX Crystal's 20-member Filipino crew were safe, according to Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K., which operates the ship.

Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley promised a full investigation.

He said in a statement that "we are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our fellow shipmates."

He also praised their colleagues for saving the USS Fitzgerald from further damage and taking it back to port.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a sympathy message to President Donald Trump on Sunday. "We are struck by deep sorrow," Abe said in the message. "I express my heartfelt solidarity to America at this difficult time."

Jennifer Adkison of Granbury, Texas, whose 20-year-old son, Bruce Adkison, a fifth-generation sailor, survived the collision, said in a Facebook message that families are grieving for those who died and trying to get clothing and other items to survivors who lost all their possessions.

"The only other day I have been so overwhelmed with joy to hear my son's voice was the day he was born," Adkison said.

Information for this article was contributed by Mari Yamaguchi and Tammy Webber of The Associated Press; by Anna Fifield and T.M. Gibbons-Neff of The Washington Post; and by Jonathan Soble, Andy Newman, Jacey Fortin and Scott Shane and Motoko Rich of The New York Times.

A Section on 06/19/2017

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