U.S. sailors aboard a Navy destroyer demonstrated bravery and heroism when their vessel was struck by a large container ship in the middle of the night Saturday.
The ACX Crystal, a massive Philippine-flagged merchant ship, collided with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald off the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan over the weekend. The U.S. ship suffered “significant damage,” and seven American sailors lost their lives. The bodies of the dead sailors were discovered in flooded compartments below deck.
The USS Fitzgerald’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was, along with two other crew members, airlifted to a the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan.
When the container ship hit the U.S. destroyer, Brayden Harden, 19, was thrown from his bunk, his mother Mia Sykes said Sunday, according to the Japan Times. The collision occurred at around 1:30 in the morning Saturday, when most of the 300 sailors onboard the USS Fitzgerald were asleep.
Harden told his mother that four men in his berth and three in the one above him died in the accident. After the hit, the ship began taking on water. The young sailor continued diving into the water to save his shipmates, while some sailors, suspecting that they might be under attack, ran to man the guns. Other naval servicemen fought to keep the ship from sinking.
“Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from catastrophically spreading, which could have caused the ship to founder or sink,” Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the head of the 7th Fleet, stated Sunday, “It could have been much worse … Because of the tireless damage control efforts of a resolute and courageous team, the ship was able to make its way back to port safely.”
Most of the damage was below the waterline. A machine room and two compartments housing over 100 members of the crew flooded, and the “water flow was tremendous,” Aucoin revealed.
The seven victims who died in the collision may have died from the impact or drowned, explained Navy spokesman Lt. Paul Newell, who said that the “damage was significant,” adding that this “was not a small collision.” The youngest sailor that died in the crash was 19, and the oldest was 37.
The accident, in which a 29,060-ton container ship slammed into a 8,315-ton destroyer, is under investigation. The container ship reportedly made a U-turn before the collision, raising questions, but officials are unwilling to speculate on the cause of the accident at this time.
“Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families,” President Donald Trump tweeted early Saturday. “We are struck by deep sorrow. I express my heartfelt solidarity to America at this difficult time,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday in response to the accident at sea.
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