U.S. Navy Suspends Sea Search For Missing Sailors From USS McCain

Aug 24, 2017
Originally published on August 24, 2017 8:01 pm

The U.S. Navy on Thursday suspended the search at sea for the sailors who went missing when the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore on Monday.

The Navy's 7th Fleet has named all 10 sailors, but says it has only confirmed the remains of one of them, Electronics Technician 3rd Class Kenneth Aaron Smith, 22, from New Jersey.

Navy and Marine divers were still searching the flooded compartments on the guided-missile destroyer, which is now docked in Singapore.

On Tuesday, Adm. Scott Swift said divers had located "some remains" in damaged compartments but did not specify how many sets of remains were found. By ending the search, the Navy has acknowledged that it does not expect to find any of the missing men alive.

The morning collision near the congested Strait of Malaaca punched a large hole in the port side of the McCain, flooding several compartments, including the living quarters.

The militaries of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and Australia have all taken part in the sea search off the coast of Singapore.

But after more more than three days, that effort covering some 2,100 square miles has been suspended, the 7th Fleet said in an announcement posted on its website.

This was the Navy's fourth accident in Asia this year, and the second fatal collision in the past two months. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a large container ship off the coast of Japan.

The Navy on Wednesday dismissed the commander of the 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, who had headed the fleet for the past two years. The highly decorated Aucoin has served in the Navy since 1980 and was expected to retire within weeks.

The chief of naval operations, Adm. John Richardson, has ordered all of the roughly 275 ships in the Navy to take an "operational pause" for one or two days to review safety procedures.

He also called for a more comprehensive look at the way the Navy is operating. That is expected to take several months.

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The Navy today named the 10 sailors who vanished when the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker this week near Singapore. At the same time, the Navy narrowed its search for those still missing. NPR's Greg Myre reports.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: The Navy says it's identified the body of just one sailor, 22-year-old electronics technician Kenneth Smith from New Jersey. And the Navy has called off the search at sea, acknowledging it doesn't expect to find any survivors among the other nine. Monday's collision punched a large hole in the port side of the McCain, flooding several compartments, including the living quarters. The ship is docked in Singapore, and U.S. Navy and Marine divers are still searching those compartments, considered the most likely location of the missing. This was the Navy's fourth accident in Asia this year and the second fatal collision in two months. The Navy's top admiral, John Richardson, addressed this at the Pentagon this week.

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JOHN RICHARDSON: I'm sure you all felt the same way that I did, just devastated and really just heartbroken at having to deal with this again.

MYRE: Richardson has ordered all of the Navy's roughly 275 ships to take an operational pause for a day or two to review safety procedures.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARDSON: So that we can get the lessons learned, act on those root causes and move forward, improving the way we do business.

MYRE: He also called for a more comprehensive look at Navy operations. That's expected to take months. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.