Second sailor missing from USS Nassau
Ship being scoured after air search is called off
ABOARD THE USS NASSAU (CNN) -- The crew of the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Nassau searched Sunday for a missing sailor, a Navy official said. It's the second time a crewman has been reported missing in the past three days.
The sailor, identified as Hospitalman 1st Class Shaun Dale of Newport News, Virginia, did not report for a 10 a.m. routine muster, where a head count of the ship's company is taken, said Capt. Terry O'Brien, commander of the Nassau's amphibious readiness group. Dale has been in the Navy for 18 years, O'Brien said.
An exhaustive search of the ship and the water where he could have gone overboard began at about 11:30 a.m. EDT, but has not turned up the sailor.
O'Brien said it was unclear whether the man fell overboard. He said Dale might be hiding, stuck in a crevice and unable to call for help, or in a corner of the ship where he cannot hear the loudspeaker calling for him.
The air search was called off at 8 p.m. EDT, but the search of the Nassau was continuing, O'Brien said.
On Friday, Dwayne Williams, a 23-year old petty officer third class from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was chasing a football when he tripped and fell over the side of the ship, plunging 70 feet into the Atlantic, said Capt. Russell Tjepkema, the ship's skipper.
"Dwayne Williams was an absolutely fine sailor," Tjepkema said. "Everybody knew him on the ship. I knew him personally. He was cheerful, good humored, and he talked about his wife and mom and grandma a lot."
The Nassau, returning from a nine-month deployment to the Persian Gulf, was about 900 miles [1,440 kilometers] off the Virginia coast, traveling about 18 knots [20.7 mph]. The ship is carrying the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit back to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Tjepkema called Friday "the worst day in the ship's life."
"We'd steamed 52,000 miles, been deployed for nine months, launched aircraft in support of [Operation] Iraqi Freedom," Tjepkema said.
"Dwayne Williams ... pumped the gas, he took care of the fuel stations, and he had aircraft flying over him all the time.
"And then on a non-fly day -- a day he should have been resting -- someone tossed him a football, he walked out, tripped and fell in."
It was a clear day, and Williams could be seen waving his arms in the water, the skipper said. Crew members threw him a float coat to help him stay buoyant and a smoke float, which allows someone lost at sea to send smoke signals, Tjepkema recalled Saturday.
Within five minutes of the fall, Tjepkema said, a rescue boat left the ship; within 10 minutes, a helicopter arrived to take part in the search; and within an hour, four more helicopters were on the scene.
The football, coat and smoke float were all found near where Williams had fallen over, but there was no sign of him.
Williams had not been wearing a life preserver onboard, and he was wearing coveralls and boots, which would weigh him down in the water, Tjepkema said.
Given the water's temperature, the life expectancy for someone stuck in that part of the Atlantic is 2.5 hours, he said. After that, "we knew we were looking for remains.
"There was no way I was going to leave that man there," he added.
Officers and crew searched for nine hours, until it became too dark to keep trying, he said.
As the ship resumed its journey Saturday to North Carolina, Tjepkema said, "My mind says this is the right thing to do, but my heart tells me to go back and look for the guy."
Williams' wife and mother have been told, and are en route to North Carolina, where they will meet his unit, Tjepkema said, adding that the petty officer had no children.
The crew, Tjepkema said, is shaken "to the very core." The ship held a memorial service Saturday morning.
The USS Nassau is expected to arrive in North Carolina on Monday morning, offload the troops and equipment, and continue to its home port of Norfolk, Virginia.
-- CNN producer Jamie McShane and correspondent Frank Buckley contributed to this report.