For the fifth time this year, the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, the largest fleet in the navy, has experienced a tragic accident. An aircraft with eleven sailors was headed for an aircraft carrier off the coast of Japan when it crashed. Eight of the sailors were rescued, and eventually the search for the other three was abandoned and they are presumed dead. The navy is facing severe scrutiny after so many maritime accidents in such a short period of time.
The aircraft that crashed on Wednesday, November 22 was a C2-A Greyhound, a propeller cargo plane. It was on its way to the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier and the largest warship in Asian waters. The plane crashed just 500 nautical miles from the coast of Okinawa, Japan with eleven people on board. The purpose of the flight was to bring both personnel and cargo to the aircraft carrier. The carrier was in the area to participate in training exercises with Japan’s navy.
Eight of the sailors were quickly rescued after the plane went down in the Pacific, but three others could not be found. The eight rescued sailors were treated but were in good condition. The search was eventually called off for the remaining three sailors, who are now all presumed to be dead. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but early reports suggest that the engines failed.
More Problems for the Seventh Fleet
This latest accident is just one more in a series of accidents that have struck the Seventh Fleet this year. The previous two accidents also resulted in fatalities: a collision between the destroyer USS McCain with an oil tanker that killed ten sailors off the coast of Singapore and another collision between the destroyer USS Fitzgerald and a Philippine-flagged vessel, again off the coast of Japan. This second accident resulted in seven fatalities on the Fitzgerald.
Finding Blame for the Tragedies
All of these were tragic accidents, but maritime accidents like these should be preventable. In August, the head of the Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, was relieved of duty in the wake of the tragedies. It has already been determined that the two destroyer collisions could have been avoided and that the causes were multiple, basic crew errors.
The ultimate blame for these tragic errors lie with those in command, but it has become clear that lack of training has played a role in the mistakes crew made that led to the accidents. Investigations showed that the crew did not recognize that emergency situations were beginning to unfold and that late responses led to the collisions that should not have happened.
Another finger is being pointed at crew members being overworked. Senator John McCain has been highly critical of the work schedule expected of young sailors, citing 100-hour work weeks as a major factor in accidents. Experts have suggested all kinds of solutions, from stress management for sailors to ensuring they get more sleep while on duty.
The investigation into the most recent navy crash is ongoing. The results of that investigation will add to what has been found to be at fault in the previous accident and will hopefully lead to changes that will prevent future maritime tragedies.