SAN DIEGO - Two local men were among the seven Navy sailors killed Friday when the USS Fitzgerald crashed with the Philippine merchant ship ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan, the Navy announced Sunday.
Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, of San Diego, and Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, were identified as two of the victims. They were trapped with five others in a flooded berthing compartment after the crash about 56 nautical miles off the coast of Honshu, Japan.
"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," acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley said in a statement. "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."
Earlier in the day, the Navy announced they'd found the remains of some of the sailors after divers gained access to the flooded berthing compartments. The bodies were taken to Naval Hospital Yokosuka were they were identified and family notifications were made.
"Our deepest sympathies are with the families of these sailors," U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin said during a press conference earlier Sunday. "Their loved ones are what makes this Navy great, so this loss is something we all do feel ... Unfortunately we don't have the details regarding the conditions during their final moments, but hope that the investigation may shed some light on that matter."
The others killed were Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, of Palmyra, Va.; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, of Oakville, Conn.; Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, of Weslaco, Texas; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, of Halethorpe, Md.; and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, of Elyria, Ohio.
Three others aboard the ship were injured in the collision, including the Fitzgerald's commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who was trapped in his cabin after it took a direct hit. Benson and two sailors with minor injuries were evacuated on Japanese Coast Guard helicopters to Naval Hospital Yokosuka. All three were alert, according to to Aucoin.
In his press conference, the vice admiral detailed the crash, saying the damage included a significant impact under the Fitzgerald's pilothouse on the starboard side and a large puncture below the ship's waterline, opening the hull to the sea.
"The ship suffered severe damage rapidly flooding three large compartments that included one machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew," Aucoin said. "The crew's response was swift and effective ... Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from catastrophically spreading, which could have caused the ship to founder or sink. It could have been much worse."
The Fitzgerald made it's way to port Saturday night under its own power.
"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," Stackley said.
Both the acting Navy secretary and the vice admiral said attention will now turn to investigating what caused the collision, with the US Coast Guard tasked with leading the probe.
"In due time, the United States Navy will fully investigate the cause of this tragedy," Stackely said. "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."
Friends and family of the San Diego-area sailors shared memories and condolences on social media:
Fitzgerald commander took over ship last month
The USS Fitzgerald's captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who was injured in the ship's deadly collision with a commercial vessel, took command of the guided-missile destroyer last month. He was released from the hospital Sunday evening, according to Stripes.com.
"I look forward to being with my Fitzgerald family in support of future missions and exercises," Benson said in a Navy statement at the time. "This is the best ship and the best crew on the waterfront, hands down! I am proud to work alongside the Navy's best and brightest men and women who protect and support the Pacific region and our allies."
Benson, a native from Green Bay, Wisconsin, reported as the ship's executive officer November 2015, the Navy said.
Benson graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1999 and earned his commission through the Naval ROTC program, the Navy said. Benson also earned a master's degree in organizational management from George Washington University.
According to Benson's LinkedIn profile his bachelor's degree is in history, and he participated in the Les Aspin Center for Student Government at Marquette.
At George Washington, he participated in the Navy Washington DC Internship Program, the profile states.
Later, at the National Defense University: Joint Forces Staff College, he studied "joint and combined warfighting" as part of his "professional military education," according to the profile.
Benson served at sea on the pre-commissioned ship USS Winston S. Churchill and USS Kauffman and was "deployed to the 5th Fleet in support of Operation Enduring Freedom," the Navy said. In 2006, he was assigned as the weapons officer on USS Forrest Sherman and participated in the maiden deployment to the 6th Fleet Area of Operations.
In 2007, Benson screened for the early command program and later served as the executive officer, then as commanding officer of the USS Guardian, deployed from Sasebo, Japan, from 2008 to 2010.
The Navy says the Fitzgerald is one of eight destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15 that are forward-deployed to Yosuka Navel Base, supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.