- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

NORFOLK (AP) — The Navy ended its search of the Atlantic Ocean yesterday for a sailor reported missing a day earlier, but was still searching the ship where he was last seen. The Navy said it is not ready to consider him lost at sea.

Petty Officer 1st Class Shaun Dale did not appear at a roll call 10 a.m. Sunday aboard the USS Nassau, and a search of the 833-foot amphibious-assault ship and the Atlantic waters began.

Second Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Ernest Duplessis said Monday that the USS Nassau has resumed course for North Carolina, where it was scheduled to disembark its contingent of Marines from Camp Lejeune.

“The sea portion of the search has ended,” Cmdr. Duplessis said. “We are continuing to search on board, and the sailor remains in a ‘missing’ status.

Just days earlier, another sailor fell overboard from the same ship and is presumed dead.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Dwayne Williams, 23, of Philadelphia, tripped and fell from the Nassau on Friday while chasing a football about 900 miles off the Virginia coast, officials said. The Navy ended its search Sunday without finding his body.

Cmdr. Duplessis said he does not know how often sailors are lost at sea, nor how unusual it might be for two sailors to go missing from the same ship in such a short time.

According to statistics from the Naval Safety Center, four sailors died in what the service calls “mishaps afloat” from October through May 21. During the previous federal fiscal year, five sailors died in such incidents.

Still, the loss of Petty Officer Williams and disappearance of Petty Officer Dale was taking a toll on their shipmates.

“It’s devastating to us,” Capt. Terry O’Brien said yesterday on NBC’s “Today” show.

“We made it through the war successfully,” said Capt. O’Brien, commander of the amphibious-ready group. “Coming back home after a successful nine-months’ deployment and then have this happen. But we’ve done everything we can. We did an exhaustive search for both sailors.”

Capt. O’Brien said that when the ship’s captain, Capt. Russell Tjepkema, was informed that Petty Officer Dale was missing, the ship “turned immediately around.”

The captain said it is possible Petty Officer Dale had been injured or incapacitated and is on the ship.

Capt. O’Brien said that when Petty Officer Williams fell overboard, the ship’s crew responded quickly.

“Something was thrown to him immediately,” he said. “There was smoke and a life ring in the water within a minute when he went over the side. A boat was on that position within four to five minutes, and we had a helicopter airborne within 10.”

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