Close Close Comment Creative Commons Donate Email Add Email Facebook Instagram Facebook Messenger Mobile Nav Menu Podcast Print RSS Search Secure Twitter WhatsApp YouTube

How We Investigated the Navy’s Twin Disasters in the Pacific

The USS John S. McCain was brought to Yokosuka, Japan, in December 2017. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

We set out to reconstruct the accidents in which the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain collided with cargo vessels within a few months of each other in 2017, the deadliest accidents at sea in the Navy in four decades. We sent out a team of reporters to interview scores of current and former sailors, officers and commanders, as well as family members and friends. We conducted dozens of interviews with current and former Navy admirals and senior civilian leaders, including the former secretary of the Navy. We attended courts-martial and military hearings. We spoke with experts in ship construction, maritime law and military justice. Many sources were interviewed multiple times. Interviews were conducted in Japan, Virginia, Maryland, California and Washington, D.C.

We obtained two confidential reports on the collisions that included more than 13,000 pages of documents, photos and transcripts of sailor interviews. The material included ship logs, disciplinary records and raw data. Navy sources provided emails, internal memos and accounts of private meetings. We also relied on the Navy’s publicly released reports, here, here, here and here, which detailed shortfalls in training, equipment and manpower. We drew upon testimony given by Navy officials to Congress, as well as testimony and motions delivered during courts-martial.

We used reports from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Government Accountability Office and numerous other official sources. Several news outlets have extensively reported on the collisions, including Stars and Stripes and USNI News. The Navy Times published a multipart series containing portions of the confidential reports that we reviewed. To understand the Fitzgerald, we toured a ship of the same class, built our own 1:700 scale model and used computer simulations to recreate the Fitzgerald and spaces on board. The Navy did not grant interviews with current Navy leaders. It also did not answer the majority of questions contained in a 10-page list sent by ProPublica in October 2018.

To reconstruct scenes in the narrative, ProPublica combined written accounts, transcripts, interviews and ship logs. ProPublica attempted to contact those mentioned by name in this story. In cases where people turned down our requests for interviews, or where we received no response, we used transcripts of interviews, written statements and interviews from eyewitness sources. All statements in quotation marks are exact quotations taken from interviews or transcripts. In a very few cases, scenes rely upon interviews or testimony from a single source.

The following people contributed to our reporting: Robi Bean, Sophie Chou, Jeff Ernsthausen, Stefan Fichtel, Xaquín G.V., Joshua Hunt, Ian MacDougall, Claire Perlman, Gabriel Sandoval, Ann Schneider, Nate Schweber, Lucy Sexton, Ginger Thompson and Lucas Waldron

Filed under:

Protect Independent Journalism

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that produces nonpartisan, evidence-based journalism to expose injustice, corruption and wrongdoing. We were founded ten years ago to fill a growing hole in journalism: newsrooms were (and still are) shrinking, and legacy funding models failing. Deep-dive reporting like ours is slow and expensive, and investigative journalism is a luxury in many newsrooms today — but it remains as critical as ever to democracy and our civic life. A decade (and five Pulitzer Prizes) later, ProPublica has built the largest investigative newsroom in the country. Our work has spurred reform through legislation, at the voting booth, and inside our nation’s most important institutions.

This story you’ve just finished was funded by our readers and we hope it inspires you to make a gift to ProPublica so that we can publish more investigations like this one that holds people in power to account and produces real change.

Your donation will help us ensure that we can continue this critical work. From the Trump Administration, criminal justice, health care, immigration and so much more, we are busier than ever covering stories you won’t see anywhere else. Make your gift of any amount today and join the tens of thousands of ProPublicans across the country, standing up for the power of independent journalism to produce real, lasting change. Thank you.

Donate Now

Portrait of T. Christian Miller

T. Christian Miller

T. Christian Miller is a senior reporter for ProPublica.

Portrait of Robert Faturechi

Robert Faturechi

Robert Faturechi is a reporter at ProPublica covering money in politics.

Portrait of Megan Rose

Megan Rose

Megan Rose is a reporter at ProPublica covering criminal justice.

Latest Stories from ProPublica

Current site Current page