More than a few times the last month I have found myself referring to the Sailors of the FITZGERALD and McCain.
I've dug in to the archives from the summer of 2017 to look again at some of the things I wrote while things were fresh.
This week, let's look back to AUG 2017 when I first wrote this.
There can be only one FbF today, nothing else comes close.
The supplemental preliminary inquiry into the collision involving the USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) and the ACX CRYSTAL from 17 JUN of this year is out.
The report is dated 11 AUG 17. You can get it from the SECNAV's site here, or read the whole thing posted below.
I wanted to pull one extended quote from it for your review. It really got hold of me, as it drove something home about the sea that Sailors know, but others don't; there is no normal day at sea. You are always one moment away from water, fire, steam, or flying shards of metal.
It also shows that on every ship, on every watch, there are Sailors who will be capable of exceptional bravery and sacrifice - the opportunity to demonstrate that character just hasn't come up yet.
Even at sleep, the sea waits for her time.
Evacuating Berthing 2
21. Of the 42 Sailors assigned to Berthing 2, at the time of collision, five were on watch and two were not aboard. Of the 35 remaining Sailors in Berthing 2, 28 escaped the flooding. Seven Sailors perished.
22. Some of the Sailors who survived the flooding in Berthing 2 described a loud noise at the time of impact. Other Berthing 2 Sailors felt an unusual movement of the ship or were thrown from their racks. Still other Berthing 2 Sailors did not realize what had happened and remained in their racks. Some of them remained asleep. Some Sailors reported hearing alarms after the collision, while others remember hearing nothing at all.
23. Seconds after impact, Sailors in Berthing 2 started yelling “Water on deck!” and “Get out!” One Sailor saw another knocked out of his rack by water. Others began waking up shipmates who had slept through the initial impact. At least one Sailor had to be pulled from his rack and into the water before he woke up. Senior Sailors checked for others that might still be in their racks.
24. The occupants of Berthing 2 described a rapidly flooding space, estimating later that the space was nearly flooded within a span of 30 to 60 seconds. By the time the third Sailor to leave arrived at the ladder, the water was already waist deep. Debris, including mattresses, furniture, an exercise bicycle, and wall lockers, floated into the aisles between racks in Berthing 2, impeding Sailors’ ability to get down from their racks and their ability to exit the space. The ship’s 5 to 7 degree list to starboard increased the difficulty for Sailors crossing the space fromthe starboard side to the port side. Many of the Sailors recall that the battle lanterns were illuminated. Battle lanterns turn on when power to an electrical circuit is out or when turned on manually. The yellow boxes hanging from the ceiling in Figure 14 are battle lanterns.
25. Sailors recall that after the initial shock, occupants lined up in a relatively calm and orderly manner to climb the port side ladder and exit through the port side watertight scuttle. Figure 14 provides an example of the route Sailors would have taken from their racks to the port side watertight scuttle on a ship of the same class as FITZGERALD. They moved along the blue floor and turned left at the end to access the ladder. Figure 14 provides an example and sense of scale. Even though the Sailors were up to their necks in water by that point, they moved forward slowly and assisted each other. One Sailor reported that FC1 Rehm pushed him out from under a falling locker. Two of the Sailors who already escaped from the main part of Berthing 2 stayed at the bottom of the ladder well (see Figure 8) in order to help their shipmates out of the berthing area.
26. The door to the Berthing 2 head (bathrooms and showers) was open and the flooding water dragged at least one person into this area. Exiting from the head during this flood of water was difficult and required climbing over debris.
27. As the last group of Sailors to escape through the port side watertight scuttle arrived at the bottom of the ladder, the water was up to their necks. The two Sailors who had been helping people from the bottom of the ladder were eventually forced to climb the ladder as water reached the very top of the Berthing 2 compartment. They continued to assist their shipmates as they climbed, but were eventually forced by the rising water to leave Berthing 2 through the watertight scuttle themselves. Before climbing the ladder, they looked through the water and did not see any other Sailors. Once through the watertight scuttle and completely out of the Berthing 2 space (on the landing outside Berthing 1) they continued to search, reaching into the dark water to try to find anyone they could. From the top of the ladder, these two Sailors were able to pull two other Sailors from the flooded compartment. Both of the rescued Sailors were completely underwater when they were pulled to safety.
28. The last Sailor to be pulled from Berthing 2 was in the bathroom at the time of the collision and a flood of water knocked him to the deck (floor). Lockers were floating past him and he scrambled across them towards the main berthing area. At one point he was pinned between the lockers and the ceiling of Berthing 2, but was able to reach for a pipe in the ceiling to pull himself free. He made his way to the only light he could see, which was coming from the port side watertight scuttle. He was swimming towards the watertight scuttle when he was pulled from the water, red-faced and with bloodshot eyes. He reported that when taking his final breath before being saved, he was already submerged and breathed in water.
29. After the last Sailor was pulled from Berthing 2, the two Sailors helping at the top of the port side watertight scuttle noticed water coming into the landing from Berthing 1. They remained in case any other Sailors came to the ladder. Again, one of the Sailors stuck his arms through the watertight scuttle and into the flooded space to try and find any other Sailors, even as the area around him on the landing outside of Berthing 1 flooded. Berthing 1, with no watertight door between it and the landing, began to flood.
30. Another Sailor returned with a dogging wrench, a tool used to tighten the bolts, on the hatch to stave off flooding from the sides of the hatch. The three Sailors at the top of the ladder yelled into the water-filled space below in an attempt to determine if there was anyone still within Berthing 2. No shadows were seen moving and no response was given.
31. Water began shooting up and out of the watertight scuttle into the landing. Finding no other Sailors, they tried to close the watertight scuttle to stop the flood of water. The force of the water through the hatch prevented closing the watertight scuttle between Berthing 2 and Berthing 1. The scuttle was left partially open. They then climbed the ladder to the Main deck (one level up from the Berthing 1 landing), and secured the hatch and scuttle between Berthing 1 and the Main deck. In total, 27 Sailors escaped Berthing 2 from the port side ladder.
32. One Sailor escaped via the starboard side of Berthing 2. After the collision, this Sailor tried to leave his rack, the top rack in the row nearest to the starboard access trunk, but inadvertently kicked someone, so he crawled back into his rack and waited until he thought everyone else would be out of the Berthing 2. When he jumped out of his rack a few seconds later, the water nearly reached his top bunk, already chest high and rising.
33. After leaving his rack, the Sailor struggled to reach the starboard egress point through the lounge area.
34. He moved through the lounge furniture and against the incoming sea. Someone said “go, go, go, it’s blocked,” but he was already underwater. He was losing his breath under the water but found a small pocket of air. After a few breaths in the small air pocket, he eventually took one final breath and swam. He lost consciousness at this time and does not remember how he escaped from Berthing 2, but he ultimately emerged from the flooding into Berthing 1, where he could stand to his feet and breathe. He climbed Berthing 1’s egress ladder, through Berthing 1’s open watertight scuttle and collapsed on the Main Deck. He was the only Sailor to escape through the starboard egress point.
35. The flooding of Berthing 2 resulted in the deaths of seven FITZGERALD Sailors. The racks of these seven Sailors were located in Rows 3 and 4, the area closest to the starboard access trunk and egress point and directly in the path of the onrushing water, as depicted in Figure 15.
36. After escaping Berthing 2, Sailors went to various locations. Some assembled on the mess decks to treat any injuries and pass out food and water. Others went to their General Quarters (GQ) stations to assist with damage control efforts. Another Sailor went to the bridge to help with medical assistance. One Sailor later took the helm and stood a 15-hour watch in aft steering after power was lost forward.
As a side note, BZ to the main author of this report. Through their exceptional writing and narrative style, they have brought great honor to those Sailors on the FITZGERALD who died, lived, saved others, and fought to keep their ship afloat that night and following days.
"In the finest traditions of the naval service" is almost a cliche, but these men and women proved it that day. Fullbore.
I believe it does great credit to our Navy and its culture that we make these reports open to the public. I hope we are able to learn and incorporate as many damage control lessons as possible from this unfortunate incident so that in the future, other lives and ships may be saved.
You can get the report here.