Navy search and rescue crews have discovered the bodies of seven missing sailors from the destroyer Fitzgerald in flooded berthing compartments, two defense officials confirmed to Navy Times.
The sailors have been missing since Fitzgerald collided early Saturday morning with a merchant ship nearly four-times its size off the coast of Japan.
The news that all seven sailors were found dead marked an end to search and rescue efforts. The names of the sailors are being withheld until the Navy completes next-of-kin notifications.
U.S. 7th Fleet announced the discovery of bodies in the flooded crew quarters, saying the bodies were being transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka for identification.
"A number of Sailors that were missing from the collision between USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and a merchant ship have been found," the release said. "As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision this morning, the missing Sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments. …
"The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time."
The Wall Street Journal first reported news of the discovery of the missing sailors.
The accident occurred just after 2:30 a.m. local time about 50 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, a high-traffic area. Japan’s Coast Guard and JMSDF surged to the scene, along with the U.S. destroyer Dewey. The JMSDF ships Ohnami, Hamagiri, and Enshu responded, alongside the Japan Coast Guard ships Izanami and Kano, which aided the crew in searching for the missing seven sailors.
The ACX Crystal that collided with Fitzgerald has a dead weight listed at nearly 40,000 tons, which is roughly the size of the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima and more than four-times larger than the 8,900-ton Fitzgerald.
Damage to the USS Fitzgerald is seen at the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo Sunday, June 18, 2017. Navy divers found a number of sailors' bodies Sunday aboard the stricken USS Fitzgerald that collided with a container ship Saturday in the busy sea off Japan.
Photo Credit: Eugene Hoshiko/AP
The collision set in motion a desperate damage control effort to control the flooding beneath the waterline. Benson, the commanding officer, was seriously injured in the collision, which prompted the executive officer, Cmdr. Sean Babbitt, to assume command of the ship.
Once it was determined that seven sailors were unaccounted for, the JMSDF, Japan Coast Guard and Navy began a search and rescue effort to see if sailors were in the water. That search included a U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft, two JMSDF Helicopters and a JMSDF P-3 Orion aircraft.