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Wave Sweeps 3 Men, 38 Missiles off US Carrier; One Sailor Missing

November 1, 1989

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ A wave struck a freight elevator on an aircraft carrier as sailors moved missiles from one deck to another early Tuesday, sweeping three men and 38 missiles into the Atlantic Ocean, the Navy said. Two sailors were rescued.

In the Pacific Ocean, another sailor was missing after being swept off a Navy carrier into rough seas Monday night, a Navy spokesman said Tuesday.

Navy planes and ships searched through the day for the two sailors from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Atlantic and the USS Carl Vinson in the Pacific. The accidents aboard the Vinson 620 miles north of Wake Island and on the Eisenhower 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., were the third and fourth accidents on Navy ships in three days. The accident aboard the Eisenhower occurred at 1:15 a.m. during routine operations, the Navy said in a news release.

The two sailors were rescued about an hour later. One was in serious condition and the other was in good condition, said Lt. j.g. Karl Johnson, an Atlantic Fleet spokesman. They were being treated aboard ship, he said.

One was pulled from the ocean by helicopter and the other by boat, Johnson said. Their names were withheld pending notification of relatives.

The search for the missing man, identified as Airman Craig A. Harris, 22, of Uniontown, Pa., was called off late in the afternoon, said Lt. Paul Jenkins, another Atlantic Fleet spokesman.

Eighteen Sparrow and 20 Sidewinder missiles went down in the deep water, but the non-nuclear, air-to-air missiles posed no risk, the Navy said.

″They were not nuclear-powered. They were not armed,″ said another spokesman, Senior Chief Petty Officer Cindy Adams. ″Therefore, they’re harmless.″

The sailors were knocked overboard by a wave while they moved the missiles and other ordnance and gear from the flight deck down to the hangar deck.

The sailors were on an elevator even with the hangar deck, about 20 to 30 feet above the water line, when the wave hit, said Johnson. The ship reported that it was raining and waves were running 4 to 8 feet at the time, he said.

Johnson said he did not know the value of the missiles.

Joining in the search for the missing sailor was the destroyer USS Dewey and the guided missile frigate USS Carr, as well as aircraft from the carrier, Johnson said.

In the Pacific, the Vinson, the guided missile cruisers USS California and USS Vincennes, several aircraft and helicopters searched for the Vinson crewman who was swept overboard the previous night, Chief Petty Officer Erik Erickson said in Naval Base San Francisco.

The sailor, who was not identified, fell into the sea at 10:26 p.m. PST Monday as the aircraft carrier encountered 12-foot swells, Erickson said. The ship was returning to its home port at the Alameda Naval Air Station on San Francisco Bay after participating in exercises.

On Sunday, a pilot making his first landing on an aircraft carrier crashed on the USS Lexington in the Gulf of Mexico, killing him and four people on the ship. The Navy refused Thursday to release a videotape showing the jet crash.

The tape will not be made public because it is part of the accident investigation, said Fred Hoffman, a Defense Department spokesman in Washington.

On Monday, a pilot accidentally dropped a bomb on the guided missile cruiser USS Reeves in the Indian Ocean, injuring five sailors.

By far the worst Navy accident this year was the explosion in a turret of the battleship USS Iowa in April. The blast killed 47 sailors.

Hoffman said he saw no connection between the recent Navy accidents. Hoffman said the Navy has an excellent safety record.

Johnson said he had no figures on how common it is for a sailor to be washed overboard and lost.

According to news reports, there have been at least four incidents this year in which sailors have fallen or been swept from vessels.

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