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An E-2C Hawkeye launches off the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Arabian Sea, Sept. 3, 2020. The Nimitz and U.S. navy ships were joined by Air Force aircraft in searching for a U.S. sailor missing in the North Arabian Sea since Sept. 6, 2020.
An E-2C Hawkeye launches off the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Arabian Sea, Sept. 3, 2020. The Nimitz and U.S. navy ships were joined by Air Force aircraft in searching for a U.S. sailor missing in the North Arabian Sea since Sept. 6, 2020. (Cheyenne Geletka/U.S. Navy)

Air Force aircraft have joined a Navy search for a missing U.S. sailor in the North Arabian Sea, officials said more than 36 hours after a “man overboard” alert was sounded aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier.

The Nimitz and the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton began the search after officials conducted a muster and thoroughly searched the carrier for the sailor on Sunday, said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet.

Search and rescue operations began after the alert was sounded at 6:47 p.m. that day, she said.

Both shore-based aircraft and those embarked on the ships have taken part in the efforts to find the sailor.

“The ships and aircraft have worked around the clock since the [search and rescue operations] commenced,” Rebarich said.

The command has so far withheld the sailor’s name, citing policy, but Rebarich said next-of-kin had been notified.

“We hold our shipmate’s family and friends in our hearts during this difficult time,” Capt. Max Clark, Nimitz commanding officer, said in an earlier statement.

The Arabian Sea covers about 1.5 million square miles in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, stretching from the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula in the east, to India in the west. It connects to the Red Sea via the Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf via the Gulf of Oman.

The search this week comes around 13 months after an extensive operation in the same sea failed to find Petty Officer 2nd Class Slayton Saldana, a sailor who had reportedly gone overboard from the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and was declared dead several days later on July 30, 2019.

The unnamed service member that disappeared this week remains listed as duty status whereabouts unknown, or DUSTWUN, Rebarich said. That casualty status is used when there’s not enough evidence to determine the cause of a sailor’s absence, but officials have reason to believe it’s not a voluntary “unauthorized absence,” or UA, the Navy equivalent of AWOL.

Three years ago in 7th Fleet, a USS Shiloh sailor was presumed lost at sea while the ship was operating near Okinawa, but was later found hiding in the ship’s engine room after evading a weeklong search.

The sailor in that case, Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter Mims, was charged with abandoning watch and dereliction of duty. He received nonjudicial punishment, officials said at the time.

Under Navy regulations, a commander has up to 10 days to conduct search and rescue efforts, investigate a sailor’s disappearance, and make preliminary assessments and recommendations.

After that, if the sailor or their remains have not been recovered and there is no conclusive evidence of death or UA, the commander may list the person as “missing.”

A person may also be listed as deceased, even if their remains are not recovered, if there is enough evidence to overcome “any reasonable doubt or logical possibility” that the sailor may have survived, regulations state.

garland.chad@stripes.com Twitter: @chadgarland

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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