Navy report details harrowing rescues after crash of USS Fitzgerald

By Eric DuVall   |   Updated Aug. 17, 2017 at 7:28 PM
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Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The two top officers aboard the USS Fitzgerald, the Navy destroyer that collided with a container ship off Japan in June killing seven sailors will be relieved of their command a day after a report detailed the harrowing minutes after the crash.

The incident happened during a routine trip through one of Asia's most heavily traveled shipping corridors. The Fitzgerald sailed into the path of the much larger container ship in the middle of the night, suffering heavy damage.

The report details the harrowing moments after impact, as sailors' sleeping quarters quickly filled with water. As dazed sailors clamored through water that was almost immediately waist deep, they were forced to navigate heavy floating debris to reach a ladder. The last sailor to escape was in water over his head when his fellow crew hauled him up the escape hatch.

"Two sailors chose to remain at the bottom of the ladder ... in order to help others out of the space, even as the water was rising and began flooding the space around them," the report states. "The choices made by these two sailors likely saved the lives of at least two of their shipmates."

Two minutes after impact, the sleeping berth they were evacuating had completely filled with water.

The container ship, which suffered minimal damage, struck the Fitzgerald directly on the captain's sleeping quarters. The report details a dramatic rescue of Cmdr. Bryce Benson, after five junior crew members used sledgehammers to knock in the blocked door. When they finally got inside, Benson was hanging out a gaping hole in the side of the ship. They tied their belts together to create a makeshift harness and the ship's captain to safety.

In all, The New York Times reported 12 sailors, including the two top officers aboard and the top enlisted sailor, will face administrative actions that will likely end their careers after an investigation revealed the collision was the result of poor navigation practices by the Fitzgerald, and not the shipping container the Crystal. Those announcements were expected to come Friday at the U.S. naval base in Japan where the Fitzgerald now rests.

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