Deaths of two sailors knocked from sub by waves being investigated
PLYMOUTH, England — Two U.S. sailors injured when high waves knocked them from a submarine into frigid water off the southwest British coast remained in Britain Saturday while their ship, the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul, sailed on with its mission.
The sailors, whom the Navy declined to identify, citing privacy laws, remained in Plymouth to assist in the investigation of the accident in which two fellow sailors were killed.
Lt. Chris Servello, a spokesman with the Navy’s 6th Fleet-Naval Forces Europe, said Saturday that next of kin of the deceased sailors had been notified, but their names would not be released publicly until later, probably some time Sunday.
British and U.S. military and civilian law enforcement investigators are releasing little information about the accident.
The British Ministry of Defense, the U.S Navy and the local police agency, the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, are all conducting inquiries following the Friday afternoon accident on the deck of the ship in Plymouth Sound.
The accident occurred shortly before 1 p.m. while the submarine was departing the Devonport Naval Base travelling south toward the English Channel.
The sub had just completed a one-week tour of the British naval station at the heart of this historic shipping city. The Minneapolis-St Paul, based in Norfolk, Va., has been operating under U.S. 6th Fleet command since October.
Escorted by MoD security vessels, the Los Angeles-class submarine cleared the River Tamar, steered around Drake’s Island and into Plymouth Harbor on its way toward the point where the break wall opens to the sea.
Gusting winds were near 50 mph and local residents said Saturday that waves topped 20 feet in the open sea. Visibility was greatly diminished when the four sailors were forced off the deck and into the water, according to local news reports.
Nearby British rescue ships and helicopters were scrambled but unnecessary as the MoD escort vessel crew plucked the sailors from the water. All four were first rushed to the British Navy’s HMS Drake Hospital, and then to the adjacent Derriford Hospital.
The MoD declined a Stars and Stripes request for interviews with the personnel involved in the rescue.
“The incident involving the USS Minneapolis on Friday is under investigation by police and military authorities. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to speak to any [Royal Navy] personnel,” a MoD statement read.
The sub was being steered by a British pilot familiar with the harbor’s waters while it was departing the harbor, according to Devon and Cornwall Constabulary spokesman Baxter Provan.
He was unsure if the accident occurred while the pilot was steering the submarine or while the pilot was transferring to a British ship to return to the port. The pilot was unhurt in the incident.
The deaths made news across England, and hit especially hard in the historic British city. Both local papers, the Plymouth Herald and the Western Morning News, featured front page pictures of an American submarine and headlines about the deaths.
Devonport Naval Station regularly hosts foreign ships as part of North American Treaty Organization military events, but locals said a fatal accident at sea is rare.
Victor Mason, who works as a ship cleaner in the Mayflower International Marina, which the sub passed on its way to sea, said despite the harsh weather conditions, the accident surprised him.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, and that’s the first time I ever heard of it,” Mason said.
Sandra Jontz in Naples, Italy, contributed to this report.