Top Navy officials acknowledged on Sunday that the USS Fitzgerald, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that collided with a cargo vessel off the coast of Japan, was in imminent danger of sinking following the tragic accident, and was saved by the heroic efforts of her crew.
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin described the details of the horrific accident with reporters during a press conference on Sunday, saying that the Fitzgerald had suffered an enormous gash in its hull under the waterline of the ship when it collided with the Filipino cargo vessel.
This almost immediately caused both berthing compartments and the auxiliary machine room to rapidly fill with water, trapping many inside.
“Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from catastrophically spreading, which could have caused the ship to founder or sink,” said Aucoin. “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 on its own power last evening.”
Rescue divers later found the remains of the seven men in the submerged berthing compartments that had flooded almost immediately after the ship was struck.
Aucoin also stated that he was sure that the actions that saved the USS Fitzgerald occurred quickly after the collision.
“A significant part of the crew was sleeping. Two compartments that house 116 members of the crew [were flooding], and it was a significant impact to the side of the ship,” he said. “You can’t see most of the damage. Most of the damage is below the waterline, near the keel of the ship, so the water flow was tremendous.”