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Sub 'detected' fishing boat before crash

'LONDON TIMES'

11:38  WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 21 2001

Sonar crew on the submarine USS Greeneville detected the Japanese fishing boat Ehime Maru 71 minutes before the submarine collided with the vessel while surfacing, the Navy has told the US National Transportation Safety Board.

Board member John Hammerschmidt also said late yesterday that the crew member responsible for tracking sonar contacts stopped performing that task within an hour of the collision because of the presence of 16 civilian guests in the submarine's control room.

The fire control plotter is positioned in the control room and analyzes information on the submarine's speed, course, bearing and range of sonar contact. But because of the civilians' presence, he could not perform his job for a period of time.

The official would not say whether investigators believe the crew member's temporary absence was a factor in the accident.

Nine crewmen and high school students aboard the vessel when it sank off Hawaii on February 9 remain missing. Twenty-six others were rescued.

Mr Hammerschmidt said the board will analyze the Navy's data to try to confirm that the fishing boat was indeed detected and determine why the submarine's crew later believed the area was clear when the submarine conducted an emergency rapid-ascent manoeuvre.

The sonar systems in the submarine and the crew who operate them will play a key part in the safety board's inquiry, Mr Hammerschmidt said.

(C) 'London Times' - Reprinted for Fair Use Only

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