7 sailors from the USS Fitzgerald found dead in flooded compartments

TOKYO — Seven missing sailors from the USS Fitzgerald were found dead in flooded berthing compartments following the warship’s collision with a merchant vessel, a U.S. military official said.

The Navy’s 7th Fleet said searchers found the bodies Sunday morning, Japan time, after the guided-missile destroyer returned to its base in Japan.

“This loss is something we all feel,” Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the US 7th Fleet, said alongside the ship at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan on Sunday.

“We have found a number of the remains … of our missing shipmates, and our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those shipmates.”

The Navy would not specify the number of dead, Aucoin said, until all families of the deceased had been notified, but he confirmed all search and rescue efforts had ended.

The USS Fitzgerald suffered damage to its starboard side above and below the waterline after it collided with the merchant ship ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan. (Photo: CNN)

The admiral’s comments Sunday indicated the loss of life could have been much worse.

“There was a big puncture, a big gash underneath the waterline” along the bottom of the ship, Aucoin said.

The water flow into compartments that were berthing areas for 116 of the ship’s crew was “tremendous,” he said, adding “there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea.”

Aucoin said the cabin of the Fitzgerald’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was completely destroyed.

“He’s lucky to be alive,” he added.

Benson was flown off the crippled ship by helicopter after the accident and was being treated at the naval hospital at Yokosuka, according to Aucoin, as were two other sailors who were medevaced.