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U.S. Navy: Second Sailor Overboard

Aired May 25, 2003 - 18:41   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Earlier today it was reported that the identity now of one of the sailors who fell overboard the USS Nassau was that of Dwayne Williams. It happened while he was playing football on the deck of the USS Nassau just about 900 miles outside of the Virginia coast. The USS Nassau is making its way back to the U.S. In fact, it will be stopping in North Carolina tomorrow.
Here now is Terry O'Brien.

CAPT. TERRY O'BRIEN, U.S. NAVY: Petty Officer Sean Dale (ph) who failed to report for a scheduled muster. Initial efforts of search of the ship for him proved to be unsuccessful.

At that time, Nassau conducted a detailed all hands search of the ship. The search of the ship is continuing. While he could not be located, an air search operation was launched from USS Nassau and also in conjunction with search and rescue efforts from Coast Guard assets out of North Carolina. Aircraft have been in the air since 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard time. Petty Office Dale is still missing at this time.

I will take your questions.

QUESTION: We've been told that the petty officer had "issues" on the ship, that he'd seen a chaplain and a doctor. What can you say about that?

O'BRIEN: I can't comment on that. That would be the subject of an investigation which we will do, a detailed investigation on any time we have somebody that's missing. We will go through all the required steps and that will come out that it's not uncommon for sailors to talk to chaplains, to talk to different folks.

We have a very good support system on our ships and we want the sailors to use them. So, it would not be uncommon for that to happen, but in this case I cannot talk to you about that because this is going to be an ongoing investigation.

QUESTION: Can you give us any idea when the search would be called off if you are unable to locate him?

O'BRIEN: The USS Nassau, the commanding officer of USS Nassau is the on-scene commander. He will determine when we've gone through a fairly rigorous search pattern. We've had aircraft in the air since eleven o'clock this morning. He will determine when we feel that efforts for looking for the SAR effort water borne have been exhausted and he'll make the recommendation to me at that time to conclude those efforts.

I want to add that we are still searching the ship because the sailor is missing. We have no firm indications that he's been over side but we want to take all steps necessary searching the ship as well as the water area that we've been in to make sure that we have every opportunity to recover him.

QUESTION: How common is this if someone turns up missing and how often does it turn out that it's indeed someone overboard versus finding them later on the ship somewhere?

O'BRIEN: It's much more common for somebody to be missing and then find them elsewhere. It's a large ship. Not everybody hears the word when the muster is passed. They tend to go off in different places. We're getting ready to do an offload.

There's many people going in many different directions, so at times like this somebody missing a muster in and of itself is not necessarily a rare event. It is a rare event that the individual does not turn up and is missing. That is very uncommon.

QUESTION: Is it possible that he's hiding out on the ship somewhere?

O'BRIEN: Yes. It's possible that -- there are several possibilities, one that he's still on the ship, hiding in the ship. We're still searching. We did an exhaustive search this morning, all hands search, going to general quarters, which is our battle stations, to ensure that the trained search parties are out to do that.

We are now still continuing to search the ship because we don't have any firm evidence that the man did, in fact, go over the side. As you've seen all day, we're exhaustive in our search, five, six helicopters airborne, Coast Guard fixed-wing assets as well as the ships. So, thousands of people have been involved in this search for several hours.

QUESTION: Does the fact that you have two missing men in the course of 48 hours, one that you saw go overboard, a second man missing as you're inbound to home, tell me what the mood is on the ship among the senior staff.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's a tragic -- it's a tragedy anytime you have a sailor missing. It affects everybody from the captain of the ship, from the commodore, from me on down. It's absolutely earthshaking and devastating.

But there are two different -- there are two dissimilar events. One was a tragic accident where we saw a sailor go over the side. We watched him go over. We knew exactly where he went down. We had the time. We were in the search within five to ten minutes after that happened and we exhausted all means to do this.

In this case we're looking, we have a missing individual, so we are taking all steps, as I said search and rescue for water borne piece, but also to continue searching the ship in case something terrible has happened. He may be incapacitated, unable to call out or anything, and we're continuing to do that and we will continue to do that until we believe that all efforts have been exhausted.

QUESTION: Families have been notified?

O'BRIEN: That's correct.

QUESTION: How are they being kept abreast of the story?

O'BRIEN: There is a formalized system, the Keiko (ph) system in the Navy where we work trained counselors, chaplains, naval officers that are trained, that have specialty training in this to notify the families and then to keep them apprised of where we are in our efforts for search. So, I'm obligated to update my seniors, which we do. We're in contact with the Keiko people so they can keep the families updated.

WHITFIELD: That's Captain Terry O'Brien you're listening to onboard the USS Nassau and also on the USS Nassau is our Frank Buckley who's been keeping an eye on these two incidents now, reported incidents, that have taken place just in a few days of the USS Nassau's arrival back to home port.

Frank, what's going on there?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a stunning development, Fredricka. The ship was just one day away. Tomorrow it arrives in North Carolina to disembark all the Marines that are aboard. A couple of days later it's going up to Norfolk but within the past 48 hours now two sailors have gone missing, one going overboard.

That was Dwayne Williams who went overboard, was seen going overboard on Friday at about the same time that 48 hours later this HM-1 Sean Dale who is a hospital corpsman, was reported missing. It was as you heard from the commodore a routine muster. That's at ten o'clock in the morning on a Sunday.

All the ship's company essentially reports to a certain position. There is a head count. Any information that needs to be passed along takes place at that time. Someone noticed that he was missing. They did a search onboard the ship. After that search took place, the entire ship went to battle stations, general quarters. That means that these trained investigators that the commodore talked about began this methodical search of all of the ship's spaces.

Also at about that same time, at about 11:20 Eastern time, the ship turned around and steamed back 80 miles, some four to five hours, to the last known position at which it was known that this hospital corpsman, this first class Mr. Dale was known to be on the ship. Someone saw him at about 6:30 this morning and that was about 80 miles back.

So, the ship turned around and went back to that position. Meanwhile helicopters were launched, some four to five helicopters in the air at any one time. The Coast Guard dispatched a C-130 aircraft to the area and began a methodical search of the waters between the ship and that last known location at about 6:30 in the morning.

As you've heard from the commodore this search is still underway. It is taking place both on the ship and at sea. There's still a helicopter aloft but darkness is descending. It's about ten minutes before 7:00 Eastern time. Darkness will come soon and some decisions will have to be made at that point as to whether or not the search will continue.

But again, to recap, this is the second sailor within 48 hours off the USS Nassau that has either gone overboard or has gone missing -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Frank, this is so incredibly sad. Now you mention that there was a C-130 involving the Coast Guard and then there are helicopters that are dispatched in the search. Now in cases like this do they also have access to smaller boats that are released from that carrier to help in the search?

BUCKLEY: They do have that capability from this amphibious assault ship to launch smaller boats. They haven't done that because, as we said, they don't know that this hospital corpsman has, in fact, gone overboard. They felt that the air assets were enough to at least begin that search process and it was the quickest way to get on scene between where the ship was and that last known location.

It was an 80-mile stretch. They felt that they should get those air assets aloft as quickly as possible. They did. They turned the ship around and then this ship went along on that route that it had just taken. Now there are two other ships in this amphibious readiness group, the Tortuga (ph) and the Austin.

They have not joined in the search per se. They have not turned around to go look for this hospital corpsman but, in fact, they continue to steam toward their homecomings that will take place tomorrow.

So, at this point, it's not really clear exactly what time or if this search will be suspended here. Right now you heard the commodore say that the search is still underway.

WHITFIELD: All right, Frank Buckley onboard the USS Nassau. Again, the search is now on for yet a second sailor who may have gone overboard. You're looking at him right there. But, as you heard Frank say, they're not quite sure if he did go overboard but they are carrying on a search and this happened just a couple days after on Friday Petty Officer Dwayne Williams went overboard during a pickup football game taking place on deck and somehow fell overboard. They were unable to locate him in their search.

We'll be right back, right after this.


WHITFIELD: As darkness draws near in the Atlanta, the USS Nassau stems toward the North Carolina coast looking for its homecoming but unfortunately it just might be without two sailors who are now believed missing and an intense search is underway in the second incident now that has taken place just within the past few hours.

Our Frank Buckley is onboard the USS Nassau. To return once again another discussion as to the update of this intense search that's taking place for this second sailor who is still believed missing.

BUCKLEY: Yes, Fredricka, let's take viewers back to how this incident began. At ten o'clock this morning Eastern time there was what's called a routine muster. That's where the ship's company gets together. They're counted by their division chiefs. Information is passed along. It's a daily occurrence. It happens every morning.

At that time, the hospital corpsman, HM-1 Sean Dale was reported missing. A search began immediately of areas on the ship and approximately an hour later after they couldn't find First Class Dale at about 11:20 approximately, the ship went to battle stations, general quarters, and at that point the fire control people, investigators all gathered and began a more methodical search of the ship.

Also at about that time, the ship was turned around. The last time that HM-1 Dale was seen was at about 6:30 this morning, so a plot was determined as to where the ship was at exactly 6:30 this morning. The ship turned around and went back along the path that it had traveled, which was 80 miles away at that point, it had traveled some four to five hours at that point, and began to return to that location.

In the meanwhile, helicopters were launched to go along that path and begin searching. The Coast Guard launched a C-130 aircraft and also began searching the sea in this area as well. And, the ship has arrived back on the area, has searched the area. The Coast Guard asset has left. One helicopter is still searching but so far this First Class HM-1 Sean Dale has not been located.

It's not clear if he's overboard or if he's simply missing somewhere on the ship but an extensive search continues both on the ship and at sea -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Frank, again this being so particularly odd as well because this happened now apparently just two days after Dwayne Williams reportedly went overboard and that search for him was futile.

BUCKLEY: Yes. Dwayne Williams went missing on Friday but he went missing in a way that was very different. He was playing football on the flight deck. He was seen going overboard. The ship immediately turned around as lookouts continued to watch him but before the ship could get around to him, before helicopters could get overhead it's believed that he went underwater.

Now, a search did continue that day as well for nine hours on Friday but the search was ended and the Nassau had turned around. It had a memorial service on Saturday for Dwayne Williams and they were headed back in the direction of their homecoming festivities when this took place this morning. WHITFIELD: So, Frank, are you able to comment whether there are any new restrictions that have been put in place now of any folks being on deck as they continue this search now for Sean Dale as well?

BUCKLEY: Well, no restrictions that we know of placed on the ship's company. There were restrictions placed on everyone in this entire amphibious squadron that is the three ships. A condition was set in which no one could call off, send e-mails, or in our case broad (AUDIO GAP).

WHITFIELD: All right, obviously we lost that signal there with Frank Buckley explaining that there have been some limited restrictions being put in place onboard the USS Nassau as they now conduct a second search of yet a second incident involving possibly another sailor going overboard.

And this happened just 48 hours now after the first report of an overboard sailor and that was Dwayne Williams who went overboard just about 900 miles off the Virginia coast as the USS Nassau is making its way now to the North Carolina coast.

It is still on course, however, even though these two reported tragedies are something that the investigators there and the sailors have to deal with onboard the USS Nassau. But the USS Nassau is scheduled to arrive in the North Carolina coast near Camp Lejeune to offload about 2,300 Marines tomorrow before that ship then heads back to home port in Norfolk, Virginia.


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