2 senior US Navy officers booted from service over 'USS Fitzgerald' crash near Japan
On Thursday, two months after the June 17 crash, the navy released an alarming preliminary report detailing the collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a 728-foot freighter, ACX Crystal, which was carrying more than 1,000 containers.
The collision resulted in seven deaths and stands out as one of the navy’s deadliest accidents in years, the New York Times reported.
The ship’s captain, Commander Bryce Benson, along with his second in command, Commander Sean Babbitt, were both asleep in their cabins when the crash happened.
Benson, Babbitt, the senior enlisted sailor, Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin and everyone who was on watch on the night of the collision will face consequences on Friday. The penalties handed out, called nonjudicial punishments, will end their careers, according to the navy report.
The head of the navy’s Seventh Fleet in Japan, Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, will deliver the sanctions to the sailors.
The Navy report describes the moments following the collision and the rescue efforts on the ship. It describes how dozens of sailors were awakened from their sleep after feeling the ship rock.
They then had to race in the dark after discovering their quarters were beginning to flood. Within 90 seconds, seawater began to rush through a gaping hole and it rose to the height of the sailors’ waists.
The water rose as high as their necks, as the officers pushed aside wall lockers, mattresses and other floating debris to make it up a ladder to safety. The last sailor to make it up the ladder was pulled only after being fully immersed in the water.
The freighter crashed directly into Benson’s state room and ripped open a huge hole that trapped him inside. It then took five sailors using a sledgehammer and kettlebell 25 minutes to break down the door to his cabin. The captain was seriously injured and hanging from the side of the ship.
The main focus of the disaster was in a sleeping compartment called Berthing 2. Out of the 43 sailors assigned to Berthing 2 at the moment of impact, five were on watch and two were not on the ship. Of the remaining 35 sailors in the area, 28 escaped the flooding and seven died.
US Navy emergency rescue crews responded immediately when hearing of the trapped sailors on the ship.
Admiral Bill Moran, the vice chief of naval operations said the report made clear that “serious mistakes were made by members of the crew,” according to the New York Times.
As the shipping lanes got more crowded at night, Moran said the sailors who were on watch “lost situational awareness,” according to the Times.
By the time they realized their error, it was too late to avoid the crash with the much larger freighter.
The report released Thursday still fails to explain the separate investigation of why the crew did not see a large freighter coming towards them and how the collision happened. Moran said that it could take weeks for the investigation to be completed with regards to what caused the crash.
Moran also said that as the investigation proceeds, more punishments may be meted to other sailors. It is not known at this time if any of the sailors will face a court martial.
The crew on the Fitzgerald, which cost $1.5 billion, was comprised of about 300 sailors. It was operating from Yokosuka naval base in Japan.