PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, AP
A few more minutes spent on sonar and periscope searches would have made a critical difference for the crew of a U.S. submarine that struck and sank a Japanese fishing vessel, a Navy investigator testified.
Capt. Thomas Kyle told a Navy court of inquiry Friday that the USS Greeneville would likely have detected the Ehime Maru if Cmdr. Scott Waddle had given his crew more time to prepare for an emergency-surfacing drill, and had the commander not conducted a relatively quick periscope check himself.
The drill sent the submarine on a collision course with the high school fisheries training ship, which sank in 2,003 feet (600 meters) of water Feb. 9, a month ago Friday.
Nine of 35 people aboard the ship, including four teen-age boys, were killed.
Earlier in the week, Rear Adm. Charles Griffiths Jr., who led the Navy’s preliminary investigation, said the submarine was 43 minutes behind on its scheduled six-hour voyage because lunch for 16 civilian guests had run late while Waddle chatted with them. He said Waddle then appeared to hurry the crew through preparations for the surfacing drill.
Kyle also said time pressures were a factor in the accident.
“You want to have enough data to make sure that the data is reliable, and that takes time,” he said. “If you try to compress the time too much, then you start losing accuracy, and you can make an improper conclusion.”
The inquiry enters its second week Monday. It could lead to courts-martial of Waddle; his officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen; and the executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer.
Vice Adm. John Nathman, Rear Adm. Paul Sullivan and Rear Adm. David Stone will forward recommendations about possible disciplinary action and policy changes to Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Fargo will take final action.
Waddle’s civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, said Kyle was second-guessing the commander over matters beyond his control and in “the laboratory stillness of the post mortem.” He also faulted a computer simulation presented by Kyle that showed it would have been nearly impossible for Waddle and Coen to spot the Ehime Maru in choppy seas and overcast skies with only 80 seconds devoted to the periscope search.
In one of several tense exchanges with Gittins, Kyle acknowledged he had the benefit of hindsight and time in reaching his conclusions, but he said “cool, calm and collected” analysis also is required on a submarine before it surfaces.
The computer re enactment played for the court was based on data from the submarine’s sonar logger — which closely tracks the sub’s movements — and weather reports that showed waves of between 3 and 6 feet (1 and 2 meters), with an 8-foot (2 1/2-meter) swell, on the day of the collision.
Factoring in the hazy conditions, the simulation showed the Ehime Maru as a mostly wave-obscured blip on the screen at the 60-foot (18-meter) depth at which Coen conducted an initial periscope search.