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Navy Suspends Search for Overboard Sailor in South China Sea

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) transits waters east of the Korean peninsula during Operation Foal Eagle. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kurtis A. Hatcher)
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) transits waters east of the Korean peninsula during Operation Foal Eagle. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kurtis A. Hatcher)

After searching for more than three days and covering more than 11,000 square nautical miles, the Navy has suspended its efforts to find a sailor believed to have fallen overboard from the guided-missile cruiser Stethem in the South China Sea.

The search was called off Friday at 4 p.m. Japan Standard Time, or around 3 a.m. Eastern time, officials from 7th Fleet announced. The Navy will identify the deceased sailor following a 24-hour period after next-of-kin notifications.

For the Navy, this was the third man-overboard search this summer, and the second sailor lost at sea.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with our lost shipmate, their family, and the officers and crew of USS Stethem," Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of Task Force 70, said in a statement. "I appreciate greatly the dedication and professionalism shown by all who participated in the search efforts."

U.S. ships and a P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft were aided in the search by two ships and helicopters from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, and two frigates from China's People's Liberation Army (Navy).

China assisted in the search despite protesting Stethem's recent freedom-of-navigation operations near the contested island of Triton in the South China Sea.

Officials with the 7th Fleet said the participation of China and Japan in the search demonstrated "the common bond shared by all mariners to render assistance at sea."

The sailor was reported missing around 9 a.m. local time Aug. 1 while the Stethem was conducting routine operations in the South China Sea, about 140 miles west of Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Continuous search efforts totaled 79 hours, officials said.

"After an extensive search, with help from the JMSDF and PLA(N), we were unable to locate our Sailor," Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, said in a statement. "I offer my deepest condolences to the sailor's family, friends, and the Stethem Steelworkers."

An investigation has been launched into the circumstances under which the sailor went missing.

In June, a sailor attached to the cruiser Normandy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Clavin, was declared lost at sea after a 76-hour man-overboard search off the coast of North Carolina.

In the Pacific the same month, a search was launched after Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter Mims went missing from the cruiser Shiloh. But in that case, Mims was found hiding on the ship a week after his disappearance and after the search-and-rescue effort for him had been suspended.

He now faces discharge from the Navy.

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

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Hope Seck Headlines Navy Navy Ships Japan People's Republic of China

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