Navy: No proof civilians distracted sub crew
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon officials emphasized Wednesday there was no proof that civilians distracted the crew of the USS Greeneville or contributed in any way to a collision with the Japanse ship. The accident last Friday sank the Ehime Maru, a research trawler carrying commercial fisheries students, and left nine Japanese feared dead in the waters off Hawaii.
Rescuers retrieved 26 of the 35 people aboard the Ehime Maru after the accident, but four 17-year-old students, two teachers and three crew members were still missing Wednesday.
The latest news comes after revelations that two civilians were sitting at key posts aboard the Greeneville as it performed an emergency surfacing drill that brought the nuclear submarine to the surface with great force.
A Pentagon source said both civilians were under close supervision, and their presence at the controls was unrelated to the accident.
The Navy said one civilian was at the submarine's helm, from which the bow planes and rudder control the angle of ascent and the direction of the vessel. The other civilian operated the submarine's ballast control, which allows the sub to rise.
'Unforgivable,' trawler's officer says
The Greeneville's captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, has been reassigned pending the outcome of investigations by the Navy and the National Transportation Safety Board. He could face criminal charges if Navy investigators determine the submarine failed to follow proper procedures during the maneuver.
The Navy's assurances that civilians were not responsible for the accident did little to calm Japanese anger over the incident.
"I do not know whether it was for practice or what, but it is absolutely unforgivable that those people touched the wheel," said Ryoichi Miya, the Ehime Maru's first officer.
A total of 15 civilians were on board as part of a Navy community relations program. Navy officials said it is routine to allow guests to experience the thrill of a rapid ascent, known as an "emergency blow," while holding the vessel's control yoke -- but only under the close and direct supervision of a qualified helmsman.
Navy officials have not released the names of those on board the sub at the time of the accident.
"They've asked their names not be released, and we're honoring that," said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman.
Criticism of prime minister grows in Tokyo
Hopes of finding survivors were dim Wednesday, five days after the Ehime Maru sank about 10 miles (16 kilometers) off Hawaii's Diamond Head. Those unaccounted for are still officially listed as missing, but authorities suspect they may have been trapped inside the ship when it went down.
In the missing students' hometown of Uwajima, in western Japan, an editorial in the local newspaper blamed the tragedy on a "reckless exercise by the U.S. military."
Japanese television newscasts and talk shows featured the news prominently in their Wednesday morning coverage of the accident. Much of the criticism in Tokyo was leveled at Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who angered many by carrying on with a golf game for a couple of hours after he first heard news of the accident.
Mori defended himself Tuesday in Japan's parliament, telling lawmakers he thought it best that he stay put so officials who were keeping him briefed by phone could keep in touch.
"I will take the blame if where I was at the time of the accident was inappropriate," he said. "But I have taken the appropriate measures as a leader, which is to gather information, give precise instructions and ask the United States for their utmost efforts in continuing the search."
Nevertheless, some top officials -- even among Mori's coalition partners -- are said to be calling for him to step down. Even Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, Mori's closest aide, said: "I think he should not have been playing golf."
CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Tokyo Bureau Chief Marina Kamimura contributed to this report.
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