Seven U.S. sailors killed on USS Fitzgerald identified

By Eric DuVall and Allen Cone   |   June 19, 2017 at 7:45 PM
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June 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy on Sunday released the names of the seven sailors killed in a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a merchant ship in Japan.

Search and rescue crews gained access to the areas damaged during the collision early Saturday about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, and the missing sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments, the Navy said in a release.

Late Saturday in Washington, the Navy said bodies had been recovered but didn't give the identifies.

The Navy identified the deceased as:

Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Va.

Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, Calif.

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 Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, Calif.

Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Md.

Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio

The Navy said the incident was under investigation.

The badly damaged destroyer was towed to the 7th Fleet's home base in Yokosuka, Japan.

One day later, Navy divers found "a number of" bodies in the ship.

"The damage was significant, this was not a small collision," said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Navy's 7th Fleet, at a news conference. "Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from catastrophically spreading which could have caused the ship to founder or sink. It could have been much worse.

Most of the 300 crew members were asleep when the collision occurred at 2:20 a.m. Saturday, Aucoin said. One machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew members were severely damaged.

"You can't see most of the damage, the damage is mostly underneath the waterline, and it's a large gash near the keel of the ship," he 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."

Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the destroyer's captain, was airlifted from the ship's deck to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka with a head injury. He was released from the hospital, the 7th Fleet said in a post on Twitter on Monday in Japan.

"His cabin was destroyed, he is lucky to be alive," Aucoin said of Benson.

Two other crew members were flown out by helicopter with cuts and bruises.

Japanese officials said a Filipino cargo ship, the ACX Crystal, which had been chartered by a Japanese company, plowed into the starboard side of the Fitzgerald in a busy shipping channel.

The Japanese company that had chartered the ship said none of its 20 crew members were injured.

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

President Donald Trump sent a message of encouragement to the crew on Saturday morning.

"Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families," Trump posted on Twitter. "Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance."

The nature of the collision, the maritime equivalent of a T-bone car accident in a busy intersection, suggested the crew of the Crystal could be to blame. Japanese officials said they were investigating what happened in the moments before the crash, with an eye toward the crew of the Crystal.

At the time of the crash, the Crystal was weighted down by a 29,000-ton cargo load. The Crystal is about four times larger than the Fitzgerald.

The Fitzgerald was returning to a U.S. naval base in Japan after completing a training exercise with U.S. and Japanese warships. The Crystal was headed to offload its cargo in Tokyo.

The Pentagon set up a hotline for families of the crew of the Fitzgerald to check on the status of loved ones.

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