'A Number Of' U.S. Sailors Found Dead After Navy Destroyer's Collision
Updated at 9:03 a.m. ET Sunday
The bodies of "a number" of sailors have been found in the USS Fitzgerald, just one day after the Navy destroyer collided with a large Philippine-flagged container ship off the coast of Japan.
"As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision this morning, the missing Sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments," the Navy said in a statement Sunday morning local time. "They are currently being transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka where they will be identified."
Seven sailors had been missing since the collision, which occurred at 2:30 a.m. Saturday local time; it remains unclear at this time how many of them the Navy found.
"Out of concern for the families and the notification process, I will decline to state how many we have found at this time," Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the 7th Fleet, said at a news conference.
Aucoin told reporters the U.S. Navy had ended its search at sea, however. And Reuters, citing Japanese media, reports that all of the missing sailors had died.
Three other sailors were evacuated for their injuries. Among their number is the destroyer's commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who was transferred to the hospital in Yokosuka "and is reportedly in stable condition," the 7th Fleet said in a statement.
On Saturday the ship returned under its own power to port in Yokosuka, Japan, though it sustained severe damage from its collision with the ACX Crystal, which is significantly larger than the Fitzgerald. Much of the destruction came to two berthing compartments where 116 of the crew sleep, Aucoin said.
"You can't see most of the damage," he explained. "Most of the damage is underneath the waterline, and it's a large gash near the keel of the ship. And so the water flow was tremendous."
It was only "through the heroic efforts of the ship's crew [that] they prevented the ship from foundering or even sinking," Aucoin added. "As you can see now, the ship is still listing. They had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface."
Aerial footage shot by Japanese broadcaster NHK appeared to depict the damage to the destroyer as it returned to port with the assistance of the USS Dewey, Navy aircraft and the Japanese coast guard.
"Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the Sailors," Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in the Navy's statement. "We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance."
"Navy officials say they're notifying the families of the deceased and will officially release names of the dead sailors at a later date," John Matthews reports from Tokyo for our Newscast unit.
"Japanese investigators have questioned the crew of the ACX Crystal about the collision, and they say they'll be cooperating with US officials in determining why it happened, which is still unclear."