A sailor named as beneficiary of a life-insurance policy of a buddy who died in the explosion aboard the USS Iowa says many of the crew working in the gun turret where the blast occurred lacked experience and had never worked together.
Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Kendall L. Truitt told reporters Tuesday the crew was hastily assembled before the April 19 exercise and gun turret No. 2 was undermanned by as many as 30 positions."The gun crew never worked together. This was to be their first shoot," Truitt said.
Truitt said a number of experienced crew members did not report for duty and were replaced with less experienced sailors.
"Some of the people that were missing had relatively key places and possibly inexperienced people had to be put in their jobs to fill them," Truitt told a news conference.
Truitt said his friend Clayton Hartwig, the crew head killed in the blast, was assigned to participate in the exercise at the last minute.
Fred P. Moosally, the Iowa's captain, has said his best gun crew manned the No. 2 turret. The Navy has also said such crews are not always fully staffed during peacetime exercises.
Truitt and his attorney, Ellis Rubin of Miami, suggested the explosion that killed 47 sailors may have occurred when an inexperienced sailor pushed bags of gunpowder too quickly into the magazine of the gun.
Pushing the bags too quickly against the projectile could cause friction and heat that could spark an explosion, Rubin said. Truitt said the sailor assigned that job was barely qualified for the position.
"I want the Navy to tell us he was qualified and was tested and instructed in this delicate job," Rubin said. He declined to release the name of the deceased sailor.
Rubin said Truitt told Navy officials he believed the explosion was sparked by a too-rapid loading of the powder bags.
The attorney also suggested that the gunpowder in the bags was volatile because it had been improperly subjected to high temperatures during storage.
The Navy has acknowledged the powder was not properly stored but said chemical tests indicated faulty storage had not made it more explosive.
Rubin demanded an apology from the Navy for news leaks he said falsely linked his client to a murder-suicide plot with Hartwig.