The U.S. Navy will relieve the USS Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, executive officer and senior enlisted sailor for mistakes that lead to a deadly crash with a merchant ship on June 17.
Seven U.S. sailors lost their lives when the Navy destroyer collided with a Philippine flagged container ship in the middle of the night off the coast of Japan.
The Navy announced Thursday that the commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet intended to relieve Cmdr. Bryce Benson, Cmdr. Sean Babbitt, and Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin for loss of trust and confidence in their ability to lead in those positions.
They are among a dozen of the ship’s crew who will face administrative action for their role in the collision. The investigation into what caused the crash continues, but it has so far determined that there was “plenty of evidence to determine that serious mistakes were made” by members of the crew, said Admiral William Moran, vice chief of staff of the Navy.
Because the investigation is ongoing, he could not say if the Fitzgerald was “solely responsible” for the collision with the ACX Crystal.
The Navy also released a report detailing the harrowing moments immediately following the ship’s collision.
It took 90 seconds for one of the Fitzgerald’s sleeping quarters to completely flood, leaving the 35 sailors sleeping there little time to try to escape.
As the water quickly rose, two sailors who had been helping others up a ladder eventually had to climb out of the compartment, according to the report. They reached their hands back down through the hatch where they were able to pull out two more sailors.
Twenty-eight survived, while seven others drowned.
The captain’s quarters also took a direct hit, fully destroying the room and trapping the captain in debris. The ship’s crew had to use sledgehammers, a kettle bell and their own bodies to force their way into his quarters, according to the report.
“A junior officer and two chief petty officers removed debris from in front of the door and crawled into the cabin,” the Navy’s report read. “The skin of the ship and outer bulkhead were gone and the night sky could be seen through the hanging wires and ripped steel. The rescue team tied themselves together with a belt in order to create a makeshift harness as they retrieved the [commanding officer], who was hanging from the side of the ship.”