Home » News & Analysis » Navy: Bodies of Some of the 10 Missing USS John McCain Sailors Have Been Found

Navy: Bodies of Some of the 10 Missing USS John McCain Sailors Have Been Found

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) arrives pier side at Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Strait of Malacca. US Navy Photo

Divers have discovered remains of USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) sailors during an evaluation of the ship after it arrived at Changi Naval Base in Singapore, Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift told reporters on Tuesday.

Following McCain’s collision with Liberian-flagged chemical tanker Alnic MC, 10 sailors were reported missing.

Swift, speaking dockside at Changi, also confirmed reports Malaysian naval forces recovered a body at sea, but as of 7 a.m. EST said the Navy had yet determined whether these remains were from McCain. Search and rescue operations will continue, Swift added, until there is no likelihood of discovering anyone.

“We have found remains in the John S. McCain,” Swift said.
“The Malaysian Navy has found some remains as well. It is to be determined if the remains that were discovered by the Malaysian Navy are one of the ten missing sailors but we look forward to starting the process to identifying those remains.”

Swift did not reveal the numbers that Navy and Marine divers discovered in the spaces that were flooded on the ship following the collision. Search and rescue efforts with U.S., Malaysian and Singapore units are ongoing.

The Navy has not released the identities of missing sailors, but some families have contacted newspaper and television media outlets to share what they’ve been told.

The Navy is still evaluating the damage McCain sustained during the collision. After speaking with McCain crew members, Swift said, “It is clear their damage control efforts saved their ship and saved lives.”

Flooding of McCain was halted, Swift said, and the ship was able to assist the search and rescue efforts as it sailed to Singapore, but the extent of damage is still being evaluated.

The Monday collision comes only two months after a merchant ship collided with the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) off the coast of Japan. The resulting flooding on the ship killed seven sailors and cost hundreds of millions in damage to the destroyer.

The McCain and Fitzgerald incidents follow a collision and a grounding of guided-missile cruisers in the Western Pacific this year. The four incidents have prompted Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson to mount an investigation into operations in the region led by U.S. Fleet Forces commander Adm. Phil Davidson.

  • leroy

    This is tragic. After the Fitzgerald collision the Navy made no immediate changes to policies or procedures because they figured it was a one-off incident that could never happen again. They not only dragged their feet, they didn’t do a damn thing beyond initiating a slow, tedious investigation and making the usual firings. But where was the rapid (or as rapid as possible) determination that “X” was the primary causal factor and “Y” would be done fleet-wide to make sure such a tragic and avoidable occurrence never happened again? But we got nothing! And it did happen again – almost exactly the same thing. Navy leadership, Adm Richardson being at the top and primarily to blame, displayed no sense of urgency. As if everything was OK in his Navy so no need to take immediate action(s).

    Admiral Richardson has got to resign or be forced out, and whomever replaces him has got to make sure that some of the Brass below him are also made to leave the Navy. Responsibility for this totally avoidable (and it surely was) event has got to be assigned beyond the McCain’s bridge. And we need some sort of change to operating procedures now. Right after this standdown is completed. At the very least our sailors should be able to sleep in peace and safety knowing they will with certainty be waking up so as to perform whatever their assigned duties of the day. At least when operating in a standard, non-wartime patrol AOR.

    • Ken Adams

      This reactionary demand to fire the CNO does nothing to solve the problem of collisions at sea. You assert facts not in evidence in support of your argument. You discount the possibility that the “X” primary causal factor of the Fitzgerald collision could be the failure of the watch standers to follow their training and carry out their CO’s night orders.

      • leroy

        No, I understand the Navy. They always try and pin the blame for an incident as far down the chain as they can in order to make sure that upper leadership is protected from any forfeiture or repercussions. CYA if you will, as we saw happen in the Iowa explosion. So? Leadership flows from the top down, and given all the collisions at sea the Navy has been involved in during the last couple of years, I dare say something in training, manning, operating procedures – other factors in addition to the CO/XO/CPO responsibilities – are at play here.

        People besides those on the ship, their commanders, are probably in some way responsible. In the very least the accountability principle should apply to them, besides them having all the warning signs (at least 4 recent collisions/grounding). So in keeping with Navy tradition, hold them responsible too. Leadership flows from the very top, and obviously in this department the CNO has been extremely lacking. His watch, his fail.

        When (up to) 17 sailors die needlessly, heads have got to roll l. All the way up the chain of command. I’ll betting President Trump feels the same way. He has always been big on accountability – at least in his various businesses.

        • El_Sid

          When (up to) 17 sailors die needlessly, heads have got to roll l. All the way up the chain of command.

          The most important thing is to make sure that whatever happened, doesn’t happen again. That takes priority over everything, including heads rolling. It may feel satisfying to kick the cat, but the threat of punitive action only encourages people to cover themselves. That means the truth may not come out, which means sailors may die in the future. The aviation industry learnt a long time ago that the way to stop accidents was to prize the truth ahead of punishing people, you might want to take note.

          • leroy

            Of course the priority is finding the issues so as to save lives, but after two nearly identical incidents, and given the warning signs, the Navy (via SecDef and SecNav) has got to look at its top leadership. Some part of the failure lay there. We have a failure in leadership, and that may be part of solving the problem so this doesn’t happen again.

          • Duane

            Then take it all the way to the very top, to the Commander in Chief, on whose watch all of these accidents in the 7th fleet took place this year. Impeach Trump for gross incompetence and high crimes.

            There is no limiting factor for your mindless demand for heads to roll without consideration of who did or didn’t do what when. There’s no accountability in mindless axing of seniors, any more than there is with mindless axing of juniors.

          • leroy

            Um, Duane. They just fired Admiral Aucoin.

            Your hatred for POTUS makes you comments ones to pass over. Gain control of your political emotions. Your rants against President Trump are really becoming tiresome.

          • Duane

            You think I really meant that Trump should take the fall? I was just carrying your logic to its logical end point. And I clearly stated your logic is mindless.

          • leroy

            So mindless that the powers that be fired Adm. Aucoin, with probably more to come. Re-evaluate your logic.

          • Duane

            Swift wasn’t fired. VADM Aucoin, Commander 7th Fleet, was relieved, at the orders of Swift.

          • leroy

            I stand corrected, and will fix that mistake.

          • leroy

            Mindless? Au con·traire. It sends a very powerful signal that lack of focus, lack of urgency and lack of priority – lack of personal supervision and leadership, especially after 17 sailors are basically manslaughtered – will not be tolerated.

            Our sailors and their families deserve better. They deserve accountability. Especially the ones sitting out there waiting for this to happen to them too because something systemic, something very wrong, is going on here.

            How do you think Rickover would have handled an issue like this with his subs? Well, we saw on many occasions. He would have started by going ballistic! That’s because he truly did give a damn. All top leaders had better too or I say can them.

        • Ken Adams

          If you want leadership from the top to be fired, then fire the American people who approved the Constitution that placed the duty to maintain a Navy on the Congress. It’s all their fault.
          You really want to bring up Iowa as an example here? I was a member of that crew and lived through those investigations. What the Fitz and McCain crews are going through right now is the hardest thing they will ever face. The last thing they need is for outside observers to be demanding heads on pikes.

          • leroy

            I don’t want heads on pikes for the Fitz and McCain crews, I want heads on pikes so that no more crews have to join them. And yes the Iowa investigation is a good historical example of the lengths the Navy will go to to pin the blame for something as far down the chain as possible – right down to a sailor who’s dead. Just like we see in aviation all the time when they blame pilot error. Case in point? The F-14’s TF-30 which was responsible for killing dozens of aircrew, but hey – it was easier to blame a crash caused by a crappy engine on pilot error. I know of what I speak! And I wonder if the same thing isn’t happening today with the OBOGS problem. I could go on and cite many more examples.

    • Brian

      Leroy – The final report is not out yet and having served for 30 years, I can assure you that corrective actions have already taken place. Though not an excuse, the location of both of these collisions is very challenging to navigation based on amount of shipping and proximity to shallow water. Also, Admiral Richardson is an excellent CNO (A Sailor’s Sailor) and if there is anyone who can fix this, he can!

      • leroy

        I disagree. Richardson had his chance after the Fitzgerald incident and he failed. Was it a lack of urgency or his temperament? Not sure, but I’d say he didn’t do enough quickly enough.

    • John Locke

      LOL…. you have your schedule , the Navy has theirs aaaaaaaand they don’t follow yours. If you have so much expertise in maritime investigations go offer your services.

      These arm-chair expectations are funny. Firing the coach doesn’t get you a championship team.

      • George Hollingsworth

        Tell that to Alabama.

      • D. Jones

        Nobody else is laughing with 17 sailors dead or missing.

  • Curtis Conway

    I hope one of the lessons being learned from all of this is that US Navy Survivability Standards w/r/t watertight integrity and compartmentalization means something! If either of these collisions had taken place with either version of the LCS the headlines would be significantly different.

    • Duane

      So far the headlines about LCS collisions with other ships are, uhhh, non-existent. Let’s hope that ALL ship commanders, officers, and crews learn from this day henceforth how to not collide with other ships, rather than rely on damage control. The Fitz apparently came very close to sinking.

      • Curtis Conway

        Duane, We NEVER rely on damage control! The principle is “Plan for the worse and hope for the best”, which is exactly what is happening to the DDGs . . . the worse is happening, but the ultimate worse (loss of the platform) is not in the equation due to construction to US Navy Regulations in the construction of the craft. With the LCS the story has a much greater probability of being different, or “Plan for the best, and hope for the best” which almost never happens.

        • Duane

          Any ship can sink if it is mis-handled, or if DC is not performed correctly and often times heroically, as happened with the Fitz. At the end of the day, our ships are safe if handled correctly. Design virtually never sinks a modern ship – it’s virtually always the human element.

          Even if a purely material casualty occurs – it’s been unofficially reported that the John McCain’s steering gear failed – how the ship responds to failure is usually the difference between a disaster and a mere lessons learned seminar.

          • Curtis Conway

            AND how the responce transpires is if, and how, they have been trained and exercised. That is exactly correct. HiStory is replete with ‘Pooches that have been Screwed’, and it was determined to be so in the investigation after the fact.

    • No chance of going in harm’s way tied up next to the pier. Lack of seakeeping ability also improves the LCS chances.


    Nice to see that our damage control training is paying off, but if I had my druthers, I think we need to be doing some remediation with manual plots, pencils, and parallels.

  • kye154

    What will happen is this:
    1. The bodies will either be shipped back in a box, or the “remains” thrown overboard, and they will be forgotten. Afterall, can anyone of you remember the names of the men lost on the Fitzgerald from 2 months ago? To the naval brass, enlisted men are expendable, just another part of the machinery on board ship.

    2. The USS McCain will be repaired and put back into service, with no concern about how expensive it might be to taxpayers. The Navy feels “entitled” and unaccountable to spend whatever they want.

    3. The Navy brass will mindlessly continue doing what they have always done, as their notoriety and their SOP dictates, without ever truly rectifying the situation. Officer Fitreps will still be embellished and padded over all other concerns for training, proficiency, and safety.


    • muzzleloader

      I promise you the remains of the fallen sailors will not be “thrown overboard.”
      Those that are recovered will be returned home to thier families.

    • DaSaint

      Disagree with all of your bitter points.

  • George Hollingsworth

    We were supposed to have a report within a month on the T-45 Goshawk oxygen issue that grounded the aircraft fleet. So far – nada, zip.

  • Jim Clark

    Two similar incidents with the Fitz and the McCain. Multiple questions as to why the crews did not view the oncoming emergency. Yet, there are no comments here regarding the possibility electronic warfare targeting our ships. What about the leadership of the merchant vessels? What’s their background? Why are we not hearing anything about those subjects?

    • Western

      Well, a few things off the top of my ignorant head. Ships at sea are still supposed to man a physical lookout watch, who should be scanning the horizon and reporting contacts to the bridge. No EW involved with the human eye. In the Fitz incident, the container ship had the right of way, and was required to maintain course and speed – the Fitz should have steered to avoid.
      With this latest one, not yet enough info, other than they were in a restricted shipping lane, and required to “stay in the lane” and avoid other traffic. Did the McCain turn in front? Dunno yet.

      • Jim Clark

        Point taken regarding “human watch”. However there are just too many unanswered questions. Why did the container ship that hit the Fitz change course? Why is there a one hour time discrepancy in the Fitz incident? Why was the McCain struck just one week after steaming close to the Chinese military islands? Could “training” be an issue? Sure. But there have been for ship incidents this year and there have been aircraft incidents as well which could have resulted from EW. With the Fitz and the McCain, too many similarities; and too many unanswered questions.

  • Tony Klimas

    As a former SWO I am sick over this. I hope they get this sorted out and take appropriate action to prevent similar incidents in the future. I spent 5 years at sea, first on a cruiser and then a PHM, and during the entire time, while I remember occasional groundings and some minor collisions around the fleet, I can’t remember anything like 17 sailors dying in such a short time from peacetime collisions at sea. Maybe a horrible coincidence, but our Navy leadership needs to own it and fix it even if it means some hard messages back to their civilian masters about how thinly stretched our fleet is today. We owe at least that much to our sailors.

  • BlueSky47

    We have to thank God those Arleigh Burke were designed so tough, a lessor ship would be on the bottom, within a minute, with massive loss of life, can we spell ‘LCS’ anyone?

  • bridgebuilder78

    Arrest Ray Mabus!

  • Hugh Straub

    Seems as though our naval officers have become so enamored of all of our wonderful electronic gadgets that they are neglecting basic seamanship. Any American merchant marine deck officer knows enough to get his head out of the radar and use his eyeballs to detect a collision risk. That officer has been so drilled on the Navigation Rules, and so thoroughly tested by the Coast Guard, to know what the other ship navigation lights mean and each vessels’ responsibility to avoid collision risk without relying upon CIC or others to tell him what to do.

    Perhaps requiring Coast Guard testing of potential Navy underway officers of the deck would result in fewer dreadful casualties.

    Hugh Straub

  • Charles Pierce

    Looking at some high res photos it look like the McCain was hit from behind on the aft port quarter. How is it a problem with the McCain if she was run down from behind? Can some one please explain? I am a sailor of small boats but an army guy.

  • Rhino601

    OK, YOU GOT IT. Now what?

  • Kenneth Millstein

    I am wondering why last night in his remarks in Phoenix our Commander and Chief did not say even one word about the lost and injured sailors aboard the USS John S. McCain. I cannot remember even one President in the last twenty or so years who didn’t say even one word about the very sad loss of any men and woman from our military.

    I know he did say a few words in front of the military men and woman the night before, but I think considering the confirmation just yesterday (Tuesday) of the lost lives he could have said once again in front of a civilian audience just how sad he was for the families of the deceased, great and brave US Navy sailors.

    • OldHickory21

      I think he had a tweet on it.

      • Kenneth Millstein

        With all due respect to you, do you really think a tweet is a sufficient method to show respect to the lost sailors from their Commander and Chief. It is disgraceful to both the lost sailors, their families and the USA.

  • LE

    here is a quick fix: swap berthing spaces by moving all enlisted berthing to the main deck or above. Officers and Chiefs can move below decks. Then let’s see how fast we start to pay attention to these issues.