Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Federal investigative team arrives

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

It will be up to a team of five investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board to determine why a U.S. Navy submarine collided with a Japanese fisheries training vessel. causing the smaller ship to sink within minutes Friday afternoon south of Oahu.

Board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said the five officials who arrived here yesterday from Washington will conduct their investigation in much the same way an airplane crash is analyzed.

They will interview as many of the survivors as possible from the Ehime Maru, the Japanese fisheries training vessel that sank in about 1,800 feet of water within minutes after being struck by the USS Greeneville, and will interview Greeneville crew members as well.

The members of the board’s team, which will be headed by Jim Scheffer, are experienced marine accident investigators, Lopatkiewicz said. Each investigator will concentrate on a different aspect of the collision.

Three others are accompanying the investigation team - an assistance specialist who will work with the families of those missing: John Hammerschmidt, a member of the federal board; and Keith Holloway, a public information specialist who will serve as principal spokesman for the investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s involvement in investigating the accident was triggered automatically under federal law, Lopatkiewicz said.

"We investigate accidents that involve public and non-public vessels. In this case, the public vessel was the Greeneville and the private vessel was the Ehime Maru," Lopatkiewicz said.

The board discussed the matter with officials of the Coast Guard, which also investigates maritime accidents, and it was agreed that the board would take the lead in investigating the collision between the nuclear submarine and the Japanese training vessel.

Thirty-five people were aboard the Japanese ship, which was struck at about 2 p.m. Friday. The Coast Guard plucked 26 Ehime Maru crew members and students from life rafts within 30 minutes of the collision. But more than 24 hours after the collision, no trace of the nine others who were aboard the Japanese ship when it was struck has been found.

Searchers retrieved numerous pieces of "collision debris" from the water yesterday, Coast Guard officials said, including life raft cases, life rafts and life jackets. All of the recovered items will be stored in a warehouse at the Coast Guard station on Sand Island to await examination by the board’s investigators.

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