Investigation Faults Navy in Fitzgerald Collision: Report

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka, Japan, on June 17, 2017, following a collision with a merchant vessel. (U.S. Navy photo/Peter Burghart)
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Preliminary results of an investigation into a deadly mishap in which the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship near Japan in June indicate the Navy crew's failure to act caused the disaster, according to an exclusive CNN report published Friday morning.

The report, which cited two unnamed Navy officials, said investigators have found the Fitzgerald's crew committed "multiple errors," including failure to acknowledge and act on the approach of the ACX Crystal, the Philippine cargo ship that would hit the Fitzgerald's starboard side in the early hours of June 17.

Ultimately, seven sailors would die as a result of the crash and about 300 others, including Fitzgerald Commanding Officer Cmdr. Bryce Benson, would sustain injuries.

In a Friday afternoon statement, Navy Chief of Information Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler said the investigation was still in its early stages and the Navy did not have any definitive information to release yet.

"It is premature to speculate on causation or any other issues," she said. "Once we have a detailed understanding of the facts and circumstances, we will share those findings with the Fitzgerald families, our Congressional oversight committees and the general public."

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The collision stove a hole in the destroyer, which was sent to dry dock earlier this month for repairs and evaluation of the full extent of the damage. Benson was temporarily relieved of command July 11 to allow him to recover from injuries sustained in the mishap.

Rear Adm. Brian Fort, who previously commanded the destroyer Gonzalez, was tapped to lead the Navy's investigation into the collision, which represented the greatest shipboard disaster for the service in decades.

The investigation is ongoing and likely will continue for weeks or months. But the officials who spoke to CNN indicated it is clear what the outcome will be.

"They did nothing until the last second," one official told the outlet. "A slew of things went wrong."

The completed investigation will likely find evidence of extraordinary heroism as well as error: Multiple outlets report that one of the sailors who perished in the collision, Fire Controlman First Class Gary Rehm Jr., was trapped below decks when bulkheads were closed to save the ship after having dived to save fellow sailors. Rehm may have saved up to 20 of his fellow crew by his actions, according to reports unconfirmed by the Navy.

Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet, has also praised the "heroic efforts" of the Navy crew who worked tirelessly to help others and save the ship during the nightmare events.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.