An explosion and fire killed two sailors on the 24-year-old aircraft carrier USS America in the third deadly blaze on a U.S. warship in 25 days.
One of the two killed Saturday night may have died while looking for his crewmate after hearing the explosion, a relative said.The latest deaths occurred in a pump room for jet fuel as the Norfolk-based carrier cruised hundreds of miles off North Carolina, said Lt. Cmdr. Mike John, a Navy spokesman.
Firefighters on the vessel extinguished the blaze with no additional casualties, the Atlantic Fleet said in a statement.
A team of about 10 Navy investigators, including structural and fuel experts, left this morning to fly to the America to assess damage and determine the cause of the explosion, John said.
Neither John nor Lt. Cmdr. Steve Burnett, another Navy spokesman, would speculate on possible causes of the blast, but they said the oil-fueled carrier would continue its mission, a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. The 1,047-foot-long America, which was commissioned in 1965, left Norfolk on Thursday with a crew of about 5,000.
"At this time, we see no reason to cut the mission short," John said. "The vessel is able to continue."
Burnett said he was uncertain how the carrier's air operations might be affected by the damage.
John said the investigators would determine whether to repair the vessel during its deployment or wait until it returns to port.
An April 19 explosion and fire in a gun turret killed 47 sailors aboard the Norfolk-based battleship USS Iowa off Puerto Rico. On May 9, six sailors died in an engine room fire on the supply ship USS White Plains in the South China Sea.
Six flag-draped coffins containing the bodies of the White Plains sailors arrived Sunday at Alameda Naval Air Station, Calif.
It is highly unusual for the Navy to have three fatal shipboard fires in less than a month, said Navy Lt. Paul Jenkins. But, the spokesman added, "there's no evidence to link these three isolated incidents. The Navy's overall safety record is superb."
Burnett said he was uncertain how often shipboard fires occur on an average basis.
Killed Saturday were Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard E. Childress, 22, of Ham Lake, Minn., and Airman Recruit Larry J. Brunson, 19, of Akron, Ohio.