Mother of Navy sailor who survived collision between USS Fitzgerald and a cargo ship describes how her son tried in vain to rescue his shipmates
The US Navy released the identities of the seven sailors who were tragically killed after their Navy destroyer collided with a Philippine-flagged container on Saturday.
Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia, was the first sailor to be identified Saturday night. At the time it wasn’t clear whether or not he had survived the collision.
The US Navy confirmed on Sunday that Rigsby, who volunteered for the Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire Department and was a graduate of Fluvanna County High School, was one of the fallen sailors.
Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California, Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlosvictor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California, Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland, and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr, 37,frm ohio , were identified as the sailors who tragically died in the collision.
‘We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our fellow shipmates as a result of Friday’s collision between USS Fitzgerald and a commercial container ship, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families,’ said Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley.
‘As details emerge, we can all be proud of the heroic effort by the crew to tend to the needs of those injured and save the ship from further damage while returning safely to port.
‘The Navy family comes together during tragic events such as this and I want to thank those who continue to provide around-the-clock assistance to the affected families during these difficult days,’ the statement read
Stackley continued to say: ‘I also want to express my most heartfelt appreciation to our Japanese allies for their swift support and assistance at this time of our need.
‘In due time, the United States Navy will fully investigate the cause of this tragedy and I ask all of you to keep the Fitzgerald families in your thoughts and prayers as we begin the task of answering the many questions before us.’
On Sunday, Mia Sykes, the mother of US Navy sailor, Brayden Harden, who survived a direct hit to his sleeping berth during the collision said her son kept diving to try to save his shipmates until the flooded berth began running out of air pockets, while others – believing the ship was under attack – hurried to man the guns.
Sykes of Raleigh, North Carolina, said her 19-year-old son was knocked out of his bunk by the impact, and water immediately began filling the berth, after their destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, collided with the container ship four times its size off the Japanese coast.
The ships collided about 2.20am Saturday, when the Navy said most of the 300 sailors on board would have been sleeping.
Sykes says her son, who is a gunner’s mate, told her that four men in his berth, including those sleeping on bunks above and below him died, while three died in the berth above his.
‘They did what they were trained to do,’ said Sykes, who said she hopes her son, from Herrin, Illinois, can come home to be with family as he works through what happened.
‘You have to realize most of them are 18, 19 and 20 year olds living with guilt. But I told him, ‘There’s a reason you’re still here and make that count.”
Family and friends are mourning their loved ones in heartfelt social media posts.
Rigsby’s family asked the community to pray for their loved ones as they try and process their tragic loss.
‘Truly a sad day. I have nothing but great things to say about Dakota Rigsby,’ wrote one friend on Facebook, Ryan Boone.
‘One of the most positive, uplifting guys I knew in school no matter what. You will be missed by all of us and your Fluco family. Thinking and praying for your family through all of this. Thank you so much for your service to this country. Rest In Peace brother.’
‘Such a genuine and caring man. I was friends with him in boot camp and during his time in Great Lakes prior to his deployment,’ wrote another friend.
According to the Facebook page of Douglass, he grew up in Okinawa, Japan, and attended Kubasaki High School.
He graduated Fallbrook High School in 2010. His father was given the news of his tragic death on Father’s Day.
‘My mind’s going a mile a minute,’ said Douglass’ father, retired US Marine Corps Master Sgt Stephen Douglass. ‘We’re still in sort of a state of shock.’
Stars and Strips reporter, Erik Slavin tweeted that Douglass was one of his ‘greatest friends’.
‘I’m glad to have spent almost 3 years of my time with you,’ Slavin wrote.
Douglass was described bywho Sharyn Elizabeth Mulligan, se daughter was a close childhood friend, as a ‘sweet, kind boy with a big, bright smile that lit up the room’.
The ship’s captain, Commander Bryce Benson, was asleep when the accident happened and his cabin was destroyed by the impact.
Benson was airlifted from the ship’s deck after daybreak Saturday to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka with a head injury. The Wisconsin native, who took command of the AEGIS-equipped vessel in May of 2016, was said to be in stable condition.
Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were also flown out by helicopter.
Vice Adm Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet, said Benson is ‘lucky to be alive’.
Aucoin described a harrowing scene as other sailors fought to keep the ship from sinking.
Most of the damage is below the waterline, including a large gash near the keel, Aucoin said.
‘So the water flow was tremendous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea. And as you can see now, the ship is still listing, so they had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. It was traumatic,’ Aucoin said.
Aucoin said one machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew members were severely damaged from what he called a significant impact to its side. The destroyer returned to Yokosuka on Saturday evening with the help of tug boats.
The victims might have been killed by the impact of the collision or drowned in the flooding, said Navy spokesman Lt Paul Newell, who led the media on a visit to get a firsthand look at the mangled destroyer.
‘The damage was significant,’ he said. ‘This was not a small collision.’
Conditions were clear at the time of the collision, though the area is particularly busy with sea traffic.
Authorities said the sailors were transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka where they were identified.
‘Our #USNavy family is mourning a loss. Please keep families of fallen in your thoughts and prayers, as they are in mine,’ Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Steven S. Giordano, tweeted.