No word on sub skipper's testimony
Crew members testify procedure was fast but safe before collision
HONOLULU, Hawaii (CNN) -- The U.S. military court of inquiry into a deadly collision between a Navy submarine and Japanese ship was still missing the testimony of the submarine's commander as it prepared to reconvene on Friday.
An attorney for Cmdr. Scott Waddle said the skipper would not tell his story to the admirals without testimonial immunity.
"Waddle's testimony is clearly necessary to the court in determining all of the relevant facts and circumstances bearing on the collision," wrote the sub skipper's lawyer, Charles Gittins, in a six-page proffer released on Thursday but dated March 12.
Waddle's ship, the nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville, surfaced beneath a Japanese research vessel carrying 35 people, including 13 students from a fisheries high school, on February 9.
Nine people, including four teen-agers on an expedition to learn commercial fishing, are missing and presumed dead from the accident, which occurred in the Pacific Ocean 10 miles off the coast of Hawaii. Rescuers pulled 26 other Ehime Maru passengers and crew from the ocean.
The court of inquiry has been looking closely at what role 16 civilians on board for a demonstration cruise may have played in the accident, as well as the actions of Waddle and two of his senior officers.
It will make recommendations regarding possible courts-martial for Waddle, officer of the deck Lt. j.g. Michael Coen and Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer, Waddle's executive officer.
Gittins said that he would not "permit (Waddle) to testify in this court of inquiry" unless the court guaranteed his testimony would not be used against him in a court-martial.
The court, made up of three American admirals and one non-voting Japanese admiral, has said it is still considering Gittins' request for his client.
Crew feared sub would capsize life rafts
Meanwhile, the court heard testimony on Thursday from members of Waddle's crew who told the admirals they had utmost respect for their captain and ship.
Several of the sailors recalled feeling that the crew was moving quickly through the demonstration of an emergency surfacing maneuver, but none felt they were moving too fast.
"I felt things were going quickly, but I never felt rushed," said Chief Machinist's Mate Curtis Streyle.
Lt. Cmdr. Tyler Meador, one of the crew members who came out on the bridge of the sub after the collision, testified that the number of life rafts on the water surprised him.
"I never saw anyone in the water," he said, explaining that all the people he saw were already in life rafts.
Meador said the crew of the sub wanted to provide assistance to the survivors of the accident, but the sub was heaving too much and they were concerned they would flip the life rafts.
He said they tried twice to approach the nearest life raft, which was about 50 yards off the port bow, but every time they got near, water would wash into the raft.
"It would have been extremely dangerous, if not life-threatening, to try to bring someone from the water on to the sub," he said.
Waddle 'the best I've ever worked for'
Both Streyle and Petty Officer 1st Class Corey Lee Harris testified that the fast past left the submarine imperfectly trimmed -- not perfectly level -- when it came to periscope depth and its crew failed to notice the Japanese ship nearby.
But Harris said the maneuver was conducted in standard fashion "with the exception of the ending."
Streyle said the Greeneville was "the best boat I'd ever been on, while Harris called Waddle "the best I've ever worked for."
Another crew member, Master Chief Douglas Coffman, was asked by the admirals of the court why the Greeneville -- with its highly trained crew and sophisticated equipment -- failed to detect the Ehime Maru.
"I have no idea, I couldn't answer that question in a million years," Coffman said.
Later, one admiral commented that after hearing so many crew members say that they don't know what caused the accident, "I get a sense they're somewhat in denial."
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