- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

NORFOLK (AP) — A sailor returning from the war in Iraq fell from his ship into the Atlantic Ocean about 900 miles off the Virginia coast and was presumed dead, and a search was under way yesterday for a second sailor missing from the same vessel, military officials said.

Petty Officer 1st Class Shaun Dale was the focus of an air and sea search after he was reported missing at the 10 a.m. muster yesterday aboard the USS Nassau, Lt. Cmdr. Dave Werner, spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet, said in a telephone interview.

A search also was under way aboard the 833-foot amphibious assault ship, which has a crew of 964 and is transporting 1,900 Marines to North Carolina, then returning to its home port of Norfolk.

Asked if Petty Officer Dale could be onboard, Lt. Cmdr. Werner said, “It’s a very large ship, and they are actively searching inside the ship.”

On Friday, Petty Officer 3rd Class Dwayne Williams, 23, of Philadelphia fell from the Nassau.

Cmdr. Ernest Duplessis, a spokesman for the Navy’s 2nd Fleet, confirmed Sunday that the Navy had ended its search and that Petty Officer Williams’ body had not been recovered. Capt. Terry O’Brian said it was possible Petty Officer Dale had been injured or incapacitated and was still on the ship.

The Nassau reversed its heading and searched for him, as did several aircraft.

Lt. Cmdr. Werner said Petty Officer Dale was reportedly last seen at approximately 6:30 a.m. When he did not report for 10 a.m. muster, “there was an immediate investigation as to his whereabouts.”

The search has involved helicopters from the Nassau and a fixed-wing C-130 Coast Guard search and rescue aircraft.

“Multiple searches have found nothing,” Lt. Cmdr. Werner said.

Lt. Cmdr. Werner said the seas were swelling 5 to 7 feet and were about 70 degrees.

Lt. Cmdr. Werner said Petty Officer Dale listed a home address as Newport News. A call to a listing under S. Dale was not answered last night.

Petty Officer Williams was chasing a football when he tripped and fell overboard.

Capt. Russell Tjepkema said Petty Officer Williams was wearing coveralls and boots, which would have weighed him down, and did not have a life jacket. He told CNN the crew threw Petty Officer Williams a float and sent a rescue boat within five minutes. Rescuers found the float and searched for the missing sailor until it became too dark to continue trying, he said.

“My mind tells me this is the right thing to do, but my heart tells me to go back and look for the guy,” Capt. Tjepkema told a CNN crew that was aboard the ship to cover its return to Norfolk. Petty Officer Williams had been in the Navy for nearly four years.

Cmdr. Duplessis said that there were 8- to 10-foot seas, and that the water temperature was approximately 64 degrees. He estimated that a person could survive for about three hours in those waters.

The Nassau is scheduled to drop off the 24th Marine Expeditionary Force in North Carolina and return to Norfolk on Thursday, Cmdr. Duplessis said.

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