Greeneville skipper apologizes to Ehime Maru captain
Japanese captain describes sinking of his ship
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- The commander of the USS Greeneville Wednesday told the captain of the Japanese ship his vessel sank that he was "truly sorrowful and regretful" for the accident.
Cmdr. Scott Waddle's apology came after Capt. Hisao Onishi's recounted for a Navy court of inquiry the sinking of his ship, the Ehime Maru, a Japanese training vessel.
Nine people, including four Japanese high school students, are missing and presumed dead from the February 9 collision. Twenty-six people were rescued.
Waddle and Onishi met in a court waiting room after the Japanese captain told the court of the Ehime Maru's final minutes. It was the first time the two had met face-to-face.
"Commander Waddle expressed to Captain Onishi his sense of apology for the accident and the loss of life caused by the accident," the Japanese consulate's office reported in a statement.
'Final act of command'
Waddle told Onishi to convey to families of victims as well as to school officials and Ehime prefecture officials he wants to travel to Japan "at the appropriate time" to apologize in person.
Onishi told Waddle he understands how the sub skipper must feel, the consulate's office said. The meeting was also attended by Japanese Parliamentary Secretary Yoshio Mochizuki.
Waddle, 41, said he wants his "final act of command" to be "helping the families draw closure and to determine and seek the truth."
'I was not able to find anybody'
Onishi told the panel of admirals that his crew had no warning before the collision that knocked the rear of his vessel toward the sky before it sank.
"We felt an impact as if the stern of the ship was lifted up. At the same time, the terrible sound of 'bang, bang' was heard and the ship came to a halt," Onishi said.
Onishi said instruments on the Ehime Maru's bridge went dead and he could see the ship begin to sink. He ordered the passengers and crew to prepare for an emergency evacuation, but "no one was in a state where they could respond."
Then waves started crashing over the deck, tossing people into the ocean. Onishi was thrown from the ship before he could drop the life rafts. Floating in the Pacific, he looked back at his sinking ship and saw men and boys still on the deck.
"They were clinging onto handrails and some structural things of the ship," Onishi said.
Somehow the life rafts dislodged. People scrambled aboard, pulling others inside. All around them lifejackets floated in the water, but no one held on.
"I was hoping that I would find somebody clinging to them," Onishi said. "We yelled and searched for them, but I was not able to find anybody."
The submarine, which Onishi thought had gone, drifted close to the rafts. Onishi could see several people on the Greeneville's bridge.
"We were hoping that they would lower their inflatable rubber boat, but the only thing they did was to lower the Jacob's ladder," he said, adding, "They were watching us."
From the water, Onishi saw his ship disappear into the ocean about 10 miles off Honolulu. It was gone in just five minutes.
Onishi's testimony came midway through the second week of proceedings before a board of Navy admirals investigating the incident.
The court of inquiry, made up of three Navy admirals and advised by a non-voting Japanese admiral, is hearing evidence and could recommend courts-martial for three officers aboard the Greeneville, including Waddle; Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer, 38, the Greeneville's executive officer; and Lt. j.g. Michael Coen, 26, the officer of the deck at the time of the accident.
The submarine was demonstrating an emergency surfacing drill for civilian guests when it rammed the fisheries training vessel.
'They made me very proud'
On his way into the hearing Wednesday, Waddle praised his crew for telling investigators the truth, saying testimony before the board "will help me in the end achieve the objective I desire."
"They made me very proud in keeping with the tradition of the Greeneville, which is to uphold what I consider the highest standard," he said.
Waddle said in Time magazine's March 12 issue the accident will end his career, and his last acts as a naval officer will be "to ensure there is closure for the families and that the truth is determined."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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