|USS Fitzgerald after collision with ACX Crystal|
By: David B. Larter
WASHINGTON — The collision off Japan that claimed the lives of seven sailors on the U.S. Navy destroyer Fitzgerald punched a hole large enough to drive a tractor trailer through, leaving the service with the considerable task of putting the crippled destroyer back together again.
The bulbous bow of the ACX Crystal left a 12x17-foot hole beneath the waterline, per three Navy sources who spoke on background, an enormous breach that rapidly flooded three spaces. Sailors had about a minute to evacuate their berthing, and several were awoken by salt water rushing into their rack, per two sources familiar with the details of the accident said
There is no indication that the ship sounded a collision alarm, which would have alerted sleeping crew members to the looming catastrophe, prior to the collision. Those details, however, are the subject of an ongoing Navy investigation.
The collision also significantly damaged the ship's superstructure and SPY-1 radar array on its starboard side, and flooded out a main engineering space and radio central, rendering millions of dollars of expensive gear and equipment useless.
While investigators try to puzzle out what breakdowns lead to the tragic accident, the Navy is solving a complicated engineering problem: how to secure the ship enough to get the compromised hull out of the water. And then they have to figure out just how bad the damage is, if it can be fixed and where.
Navy engineers have managed to dewater most of the spaces and are working on a patch for the wounded hull, said 7 th Fleet spokesman Clay Doss in an email.
"USS Fitzgerald is preparing to enter drydock on Fleet Activities Yokosuka early next month to conduct follow on inspections and repairs,” Doss said. “An ammo offload was completed June 25. Additional preparations include dewatering, defueling and temporary patch installation on the hull. Once the ship is docked, technical assessments will commence that will inform options to conduct long term repairs in the United States.”
Since the outset, the Navy has been intent on fixing the ship. In a press conference immediately following the June 17 collision, 7 th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin told reporters that it would be a lengthy process.
"Hopefully less than a year,” he said. “You will see the USS Fitzgerald back."
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