US destroyer collision: Search area expanded, but efforts turned up empty

The search continues as 20 RSAF personnel on board a C-130 flying over the South China Sea in searching of the missing persons from the McCain collision.
The search continues as 20 RSAF personnel on board a C-130 flying over the South China Sea in searching of the missing persons from the McCain collision. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Peering at the open sea for hours at a stretch may be a monotonous job, but it remains crucial to finding the missing sailors from the USS John S. McCain destroyer, on Day Three of the multi-national search-and-rescue efforts on Wednesday (Aug 23).

Hopes for finding further survivors remain slim, as rescue efforts turned up empty, with Singapore leaders expressing their condolences to their US counterparts over the mishap.

Singapore's search area was further expanded to 5,524 sq km on Wednesday from 2,620 sq km on Tuesday, said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

Despite the expanded area, no survivors have been found as of Wednesday.

The US warship had collided with the tanker Alnic MC in Singapore waters on Monday, which saw 10 naval sailors missing and five injured. The US Navy said on Tuesday that the bodies of some sailors have been discovered.

Two Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aircrafts, a C-130 and a Fokker 50, were among those involved on Wednesday, with a Super Puma helicopter on standby.

In the C-130 mission accompanied by media representatives, the search spanned 1,269 sq km over the eastern and northern parts of the Singapore search area.

Twenty RSAF personnel were involved in the mission - one of the 10 that have taken place since Monday.

In the seven-hour operation, the team was deployed to look out for survivors, or bodies of the missing sailors.

Among them, 12 were designated as "scanners", some of whom wore sunglasses to shield their eyes from the glare. Fatigue was a concern in the six hours of searching, so the servicemen took 30-minute shifts with 10 to 15-minute breaks.

Two loadmasters, who are air crew specialists of 122 Squadron trained to do such operations, also did the same job.

For better visibility, the aircraft did low-level flying - 500ft above the sea.

MPA said in its statement that two Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) patrol vessels, RSS Freedom and RSS Fearless, were deployed on Wednesday. The Singapore Police Coast Guard also deployed two vessels.

Australia joined Wednesday's operation with a P3 aircraft while MPA, as the co-ordinating agency, also had a craft present.

In total, more than 300 personnel from Singapore have been deployed so far.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has deployed four patrol vessels, three fast craft, a frigate, three Super Pumas, two Chinooks, two C-130s and three Fokker 50, while PCG has deployed four patrol crafts.

The MPA has deployed two craft, three tugboats and a team of divers. It has also been issuing hourly navigational broadcasts to inform passing vessels of the incident, and ask them to look out for anyone in the water.

The US Navy and Marine Corps divers located some remains when they accessed sealed compartments in the damaged parts of the ship during search operations on Tuesday. The diving operations are currently still going on.