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Sailors Bid Farewell To Ferry Victims, Death Toll 21

December 24, 1990

HAIFA, Israel (AP) _ Divers today abandoned the search for the last of the 21 men drowned in the sinking of a ferry carrying servicemen on shore leave back to the U.S. aircraft carrier Saratoga, American officials said.

The decision was made in consultation with Israeli authorities, who felt there was no way of finding the body.

The U.S. Embassy said it was assumed the body would eventually wash ashore. The missing man was identified as Aviation Ordinanceman 3rd Class Anthony J. Fleming, 25, of Buffalo, N.Y.

Ferry service to the Saratoga was suspended after the only available ferry snarled its propeller in a cable early today, the embassy said.

With only a limited number of helicopters available for shuttle service, many of the Saratoga’s crew who had gone on shore leave were to spend Christmas on land instead of returning to the carrier.

First preference for helicopter furloughs went to servicemen who were aboard the ferry that capsized early Saturday and their rescuers, followed by those whose wives or girlfriends flew to Israel for the holidays, a Navy lieutenant said on condition of anonymity.

Crewmen bade a tearful farewell to their 21 comrades at a memorial service Sunday aboard the Saratoga. The dead were symbolized by rows of sailors’ caps and a petty officer’s hat laid out on a table.

″There are no words that can express the heartfelt sorrow of this entire 5,000-man ship,″ said the carrier’s skipper, Capt. Joseph S. Mobley.

Among the 1,200 mourners were many of the 81 survivors of the chartered Israeli ferry Tuvia, which capsized and sank as it carried 102 Saratoga crewmen back from a shore leave.

Mobley told reporters that the Navy concluded with ″utmost confidence″ that Fleming had died. ″He was definitely on the ferry at the time of the accident, he was definitely not rescued,″ he said.

Nineteen bodies were recovered Saturday, including six pulled by Israeli divers from the sunken, two-deck ferry.

Another was found Sunday, shortly before a military air transport left for Dover Air Base in Delaware with the corpses.

The plane was delayed several hours and was to arrive this afternoon. Air Force Lt. Teresa Schallock said strong headwinds had forced the plane to divert to Britain to take on more fuel.

At the memorial service in one of the Saratoga’s huge aircraft hangars, men wiped away tears as a choir sang ″America the Beautiful″ and the Navy hymn ″Eternal Father.″

Two sailors dropped a wreath into the Mediterranean in honor of the victims, and a detachment of seven Marines fired a 21-gun salute in three rifle salvos.

″We have suffered a very great tragedy. Every man on this mighty ship has had his heart in his throat, tears in his eyes and a knot in his stomach since that event,″ Mobley said.

The Saratoga task force, based at Mayport Naval Air Station in Florida, includes the destroyer Sampson, cruiser South Carolina and combat stores ship Sirius. It has a crew of 6,200 men.

The Saratoga and its escort ships had come from the Red Sea where they joined in the naval buildup in the Persian Gulf.

Two Israeli investigations and one probe by the U.S. Navy are under way into the ferry sinking.

Survivors said water was washing into the 57-foot ferry from waves when it was suddenly swamped by two huge swells about 200 yeards from the Saratoga. Israeli officials believe too many men were gathered in the back of the craft.

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