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Mother of USS Fitzgerald sailor says son kept diving to try & save Navy shipmates after collision

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart/U.S. Navy)
June 19, 2017

The mother of a U.S. Navy sailor said her son continued to dive after his shipmates in an effort to save their lives following a collision between the Navy destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, and a Philippine-flagged container on Saturday.

Mia Sykes told the Associated Press that her son, Brayden Harden, 19, tried to save the lives of his shipmates until air pockets in his sleeping berth began running out.

Sykes told the Associated Press that her son told her that three people in the sleeping berth above him died and four people in his own berth died as a result of the collision.


“They did what they were trained to do,” Sykes told the Associated Press. “You have to realize most of them are 18, 19 and 20-year-olds living with guilt. But I told him, ‘There’s a reason you’re still here and make that count.’ ”

Around 2:20 a.m. local time on Saturday, the USS Fitzgerald collided with the ACX Crystal, a container ship that weighs roughly four times as much as the Navy destroyer.

The U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement that the crash damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room and the radio room. The majority of the nearly 300 sailors aboard would have been asleep at the time.

“The water flow was tremendous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea. And as you can see now, the ship is still listing, so they had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. It was traumatic,” Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet, said at a news conference, the Associated Press reported.


Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland; and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr, 37, from Elyria, Ohio, were the seven deceased sailors identified in the collision.

“We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our fellow shipmates as a result of Friday’s collision between USS Fitzgerald and a commercial container ship, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families,” said Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley. “As details emerge, we can all be proud of the heroic effort by the crew to tend to the needs of those injured and save the ship from further damage while returning safely to port.”

Japanese Coast Guard officials are investigating the case as possible professional negligence, but both Aucoin and the Japanese Coast Guard said that it is too early to make a determination on what caused the collision.

A retired Navy Captain who wished to remain unnamed told American Military News that “In the middle of the night large cargo ships can look like land on the horizon. Most likely someone on watch screwed up and someone will be relieved of duty.”