Sailors had less than a minute to escape as seawater blasted through a massive hole in the destroyer Fitzgerald after a container ship struck its starboard side on June 17, according to a Navy report released Thursday.
Seven sailors could not escape the afflicted ship’s Berthing 2 area during a terrifying and chaotic scramble to get to higher ground. The berthing area filled with water in less than 90 seconds, according to Adm. Bill Moran.
The Navy’s official report released Thursday offers a harrowing account of the minutes and hours after the massive ACX Crystal container ship plowed into the Fitzgerald off the Japanese coast.
The report into the circumstances surrounding the death of seven sailors showcases acts of valor among shipmates in horrific circumstances. Obtained by Navy Times, the 41-page report stems from the preliminary inquiry and line of duty determination from Carrier Strike Group Five.
Yet the report does not address the cause of the collision or how the Crystal was ever able to get so close to one of the Navy’s most state-of-the-art, AEGIS-equipped vessels in the first place. It also does not address the actions of the Philippine-flagged Crystal. Several other investigations into the at-sea disaster remain ongoing.
The Navy recently revealed plans to discipline up to 12 Fitzgerald sailors, including the commanding officer, in connection to the destroyer’s fatal collision that led to the drownings of seven sailors.
On the night of the collision, there were calm seas and moonlight as the two ships were underway in busy shipping lanes about 56 nautical miles southwest of the Fitz’s Yokosuka, Japan, home port.
At about 1:30 a.m. local time, the 728-foot Crystal’s bow struck the 505-foot Fitz’s front starboard.
The commercial ship’s bulbous bow bludgeoned into the hull near berthing 2, punching a 13-foot by 17-foot gaping hole that spanned the second and third decks below the main, according to the report.
Seawater poured into the berthing area and an adjacent auxiliary space. The door between Berthing 2 and a starboard access trunk pulled away from the ceiling and bent to a 90-degree angle.
“As a result, nothing separated Berthing 2 from the onrushing sea, allowing a great volume of water to enter Berthing 2 very quickly,” according to the report.
The 10-foot high berthing and auxiliary area would be completely submerged about 10 minutes later as seawater flooded in through the hull gash, according to the report.
Several areas of the ship above the waterline, including the commanding officer’s quarters, suffered catastrophic damage as well.
The impact caused the Fitzgerald to tilt 14 degrees to the left before settling into a 7-degree starboard list, and the flooding weighted the ship deeper to the right, according to the report.
Some of the 35 sailors in Berthing 2 at the time were flung from their racks, while others recalled a loud noise and unusual movement, the report states.
“Still other Berthing 2 Sailors did not realize what had happened and remained in their racks,” according to the report. “Some of them remained asleep.”
Some reported hearing alarms after the collision, “while others remember hearing nothing at all,” according to the report.
“Water on deck!” shipmates screamed in the berthing, seconds after impact. “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,” according to the report.
Senior sailors checked for shipmates still in their beds, and within a minute, the main area of Berthing 2 was flooded.
“By the time the third Sailor to leave arrived at the ladder, the water was already waist deep,” the report states.
Mattresses, an exercise bike, wall lockers and other debris floated into the narrow aisles between racks, hindering sailors from jumping off their racks and escaping as the water rushed.