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By Theresa Merto

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 10) - It was a somber moment yesterday, when hundreds of sailors stood on the decks of submarines and ships, and flags were flown at half-staff, as the USS San Francisco slowly made its way into Apra Harbor carrying the body of a 24-year-old sailor.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Allen Ashley, of Akron, Ohio, died as a result of injuries sustained when the nuclear-powered submarine ran aground around noon Saturday while traveling about 350 miles south of Guam. A Navy official said yesterday the submarine struck something topographical underwater.

Ashley, who was a machinist mate, suffered "significant trauma to the head" while he was working in one of the ship's engineering spaces, said Lieutenant Commander Jeff Davis, spokesman for the U.S. Navy Pacific Submarine Force. He was initially in critical condition, but died Sunday afternoon. Ashley's family members have been notified of his death, but they are off island, Davis said.

About 23 out of the submarine's 137-member crew who were on board at the time of the accident suffered a range of injuries, including broken bones, lacerations and a back injury. Their injuries were serious enough that they could not stand watch, Davis said. On top of the nearly two dozens sailors, many others suffered minor injuries including scratches and bruises, he said.

"The first thing we have to do is get the injured persons off and get them to the hospital, where they can get appropriate medical treatment," Davis said.

The USS San Francisco, one of the three nuclear-powered submarines based on Guam, was on its way to Brisbane, Australia, for a routine port visit when the submarine ran aground.

Just before 3 p.m. yesterday, the submarine made its way -- using its own power -- into Apra Harbor and was moored at Sierra Pier, where dozens of family members of crewmembers waited.

"This is something we are deeply saddened by. A loss of one of our shipmates, one of our fellow submariners, is a tragedy," Davis said.

Davis said the submarine struck "something topographical" underwater and said the Navy has absolutely no reason to believe that it struck another submarine or vessel.

"We know that there is damage in the bow, but we are not going to be able to evaluate that damage completely until that submarine is at pier side," Davis said.

When asked how could a high-tech submarine hit something underwater, Davis said, "I wouldn't want to speculate on the cause. We are going to have a complete investigation. We are going to look at this very, very carefully, make sure that we have all the answers, and try to prevent anything like this from happening again."

No action has been taken against any crewmembers, pending an investigation.

An investigating officer will likely be appointed to look into the cause of the accident, Davis said. One of the things they will look into is whether the San Francisco or any other submarine has taken that route before.

He said the Navy could not release what speed the submarine was going or what depth it was in during the accident.

"There will be classified and unclassified components of it. Things like depth, we guard pretty closely," Davis said.

He also could not speculate on how long the investigation will take.

"This is something that submariners, all over the world, not just our Navy, but a lot of the foreign navies we work with, are grieving over," Davis said.

The Navy has chaplains and counselors that the submarine's crews have a chance to meet with to help "with this grieving process," Davis said.

"Any time you have a tragedy of this nature about a submarine, we want to do everything we can to take care of our Navy family aboard," Davis said.

On Sunday, medical personnel were flown by helicopter to the submarine, Davis said, adding that submarines don't usually have doctors on board.

"Submarines have an independent duty corpsman who can do a lot of the things doctors can do, very similar to an emergency medical technician, not actually a doctor. In this case, urgent medical attention was needed, so a doctor was put aboard the ship," Davis said.

January 11, 2005

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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