Wednesday, February 14, 2001
home page local news opinion business island life sports
AP National & International News
Traffic Hotspots
School Calendar
E-The People
Email Lawmakers
Classified Ads
Restaurant Guide
Business Directory

Posted on: Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Two civilians were at sub's controls

Rescued crew's plea: Find the others
Incident likely ends commander's sterling career
Pentagon insists submarine could not rescue survivors
Navy withholding identity of civilians aboard sub
Surviving students return to Uwajima
Public often given look at sub crews in action
Lee Cataluna: Missing students brought joy during visit to local retailer
Tribute to the Missing
Video of yesterday's press conference with the crew of the Ehime Maru

By Jennifer Hiller and Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writers

See a graphic of the control room
of a Los Angeles-class submarine
Two civilians sat at control stations of the nuclear-powered submarine USS Greeneville as it rocketed to the surface and smashed into a Japanese fishing vessel, the Navy confirmed yesterday.

Officials would not specify what controls the guests were using during the collision Friday, saying only that they were at two of three "watch stations," which could include the helm, sonar or the ballast control.

"There were two civilians at two separate watch stations under the very close supervision of a qualified watch stander," said Lt. Cmdr. Conrad Chun, a Pacific Fleet spokesman.

In Honolulu yesterday, Rear Adm. Al Konetzni Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Forces, yesterday confirmed to the Japanese that civilians were at some of the controls of the submarine.

Yoshitaka Sakurada, parliamentary officer of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Konetzni that "If this was true, then the Japanese government will have to take this very seriously," said Koji Hanada, one of Sakurada’s assistants.

Several news organizations reported that one of the visitors was sitting at the helm, assigned to hold a steering wheel steady so that the sub’s rudder and bowplane, which control forward and sideways motion, would not move.

The second guest was at the ballast controls, directed to push buttons that regulate the ship’s rising or submerging.

Civilians not a factor’

The Navy stressed that the presence of the civilians at the controls was not a factor in the accident about nine miles south of Diamond Head. The collision caused the 174-foot Ehime Maru, a fishing vessel used to train high school students, to sink within 10 minutes. Twenty-six people were rescued, but nine are missing and presumed dead.

The Navy and other submarine experts said the decision to surface — not who was handling the controls — remains the most important aspect of the investigation.

The unmanned submersible Scorpio arrived in Hawai'i yesterday and was being prepared for a dive to survey the wreckage of the Ehime Maru. No timetable has been set for using the Scorpio or the two other submersibles assigned to the survey.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Greeneville was practicing a "main emergency ballast blow," a maneuver designed to bring the submarine quickly to the surface.

Cmdr. Bruce Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the civilians sitting at the controls could not have altered the ship’s course once the decision was made to surface.

"Once they activate the blow ballast, the submarine is going to the surface," Cole said.

Navy procedures require submarines to perform sonar and periscope checks before surfacing to make sure the area around them is clear. Why the command of the Greeneville didn’t know the Ehime Maru was above it is unknown.

Retired Navy Capt. John Peters of Honolulu, a former nuclear submarine commander, agreed with the Navy’s contention that the presence of civilians at the controls was not the issue, but rather that the sub could not detect "a tiny white ship in a white haze in choppy seas."

"They’re not really doing anything," Peters said of civilians aboard the submarine. "It’s like sitting him on a desk with a cup of coffee. It’s like he’s a passenger on a Greyhound bus watching the scenery fly by."

Lt. Cmdr. Dave Werner, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s submarine force, described the civilians on the Greeneville as "corporate leaders — business leaders invited aboard to observe some of the training going on, see the hard-charging men in the sub force working as a team, defending their country and making sacrifices."

Sailors often call the tours in which civilians are invited "dependent cruises," because some of those taken along are family members of the crew. The Navy routinely allows civilians to ride on submarines for half-day trips out of Pearl Harbor and usually allows them to sit at the controls that affect the rudders and bowplanes.

The missions are not joy rides, Werner said. "It’s important for everyone to understand the importance of submarine operations," he said. "And anytime you take the ship out and submerge it or surface it, it’s effective training."

The Navy has refused to release the names of any of the 15 civilian guests aboard the ill-fated public relations tour, citing their right to privacy and requests for anonymity.

"I think that when we take guests on board, they do not automatically surrender their rights to privacy, and they’ve asked their names not be released and we’re honoring that," Adm. Craig Quigley, Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday.

John Hammerschmidt of the NTSB said last night that the agency hasn’t decided yet whether to interview the civilians. He said the NTSB has yet to be given the names of the civilians on the Greeneville.

Hammerschmidt declined to say whether it was appropriate for civilians to be aboard the sub, but he said in the 16 years he has been with the NTSB the issue had never been raised before.

Scars on the hull of the Greeneville, now berthed in Pearl Harbor, jibe with what students and crew members aboard the Ehime Maru said happened to their ship moments before it began to sink: It may have been hit twice by the submarine, a federal maritime investigator said yesterday.

Scrapes apparent

During their first look at the Greeneville, a team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board found that black, sound-absorbing acoustical tile had been scraped off an area about 25 feet long and 2 feet wide on the port side of the submarine, partially above and below the waterline, said John Hammerschmidt, an investigator for the federal agency.

The black tile had also been scraped from the rudder, along a distance of 10 to 12 feet from the top and back about 6 or 7 feet on each side, Hammerschmidt said. The top of the rudder, where the scraping was apparent, is made of reinforced steel to allow the ship to break through polar ice.

Survivors have told investigators that they felt two distinct, heavy shudders as the Greeneville surfaced below the Ehime Maru, slicing through its hull.

Hammerschmidt said the captain of the Japanese ship told investigators it was cruising at 11 knots on autopilot when it was hit. In the hours after the accident, the Navy suggested that the Ehime Maru may have been sitting dead in the water, making it difficult for the Greeneville’s sonar to detect it.

Investigators for the safety board plan to spend the next three days interviewing Greeneville crew members. They hoped to spend yesterday afternoon talking to enlisted crew members who would have been controlling the submarine’s movements at the time it collided with the Ehime Maru.

Board investigators determined that one of the submarine’s two periscopes has video recording capability, but it is not known if the view through the periscope prior to the accident was recorded.

Likewise, the Greeneville can store data picked up by its sophisticated sonar systems but it is not clear yet if the sonar information gathered before the accident was stored, Hammerschmidt said.

The Coast Guard and Navy continued through the night searching a 12,500-square-mile area for the nine missing, who include four teenage students, two teachers, two engineers and another crewman. The Coast Guard acknowledged that the window for finding survivors had likely closed, though.

"I think if there was something there, we would have found it by now," said Lt. Greg Fondran, Coast Guard spokesman. "I think we showed a lot of people that we looked very thoroughly. Obviously as the days go by it gets more and more discouraging."

The Navy yesterday prepared three deep-sea submersibles that will survey the wreckage of the Ehime Maru in 1,800 feet of water. Although the submersibles will not go inside the vessel, they will be able to tell if there are bodies inside, according to the Pentagon.

Search for wreckage

To seek out the Ehime Maru’s resting spot, two dozen members of the Navy’s Deep Submergence Unit based at North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego will operate the deep-sea submersibles from aboard the Motor Vessel C-Commando, a ship under contract by the Navy and located in Pearl City.

The Super Scorpio travels to a maximum depth of 5,000 feet and carries sonar, two black-and-white video cameras and two manipulators capable of lifting 250 pounds each.

The Klein 2000Side Scan Sonar System can reach a depth of 4,200 feet.

The Deep Drone, which reaches a depth of 7,200 feet, will come to Hawaii from an East Coast military facility. It carries sonar, has two manipulators capable of working with tools and attaching rigging, a 35mm still camera and both black-and-white and color television cameras.

No timeline has been set for using the submersibles, although the Navy readied the Super Scorpio and the sonar unit yesterday.

The news that civilians were at the controls of the Greeneville angered one of the crewmen of the sunken vessel yesterday.

"A civilian wouldn’t know what to do" at the controls, said Ryoichi Miya, first mate of the Ehime Maru.

"I don’t know if the emergency surfacing was a drill or what, but it’s absolutely unforgivable if a civilian was operating it," he said, his voice rising in anger.

Staff writers David Waite, Karen Blakeman and Sally Apgar, Washington correspondent Susan Roth, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post contributed to this report.

[back to top]

Home | Local News | Opinion | Business | Island Life | Sports
Weather | Traffic Hotspots | Obituaries | School Calendar | Email Lawmakers
How to Subscribe | How to Advertise | Site Map | Terms of Service | Corrections

© COPYRIGHT 2001 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.