The U.S. aircraft carrier Midway docked at its home base Thursday after two shipboard explosions killed two crew members and injured 16 others, nine seriously, officials said.
"Midway is safe and seaworthy in all respects," Rear Adm. Lyle Bull, commander of the Battle Force 7th Fleet, told about 100 reporters aboard the 67,000-ton ship a day after the blasts."The safety of the ship was never in jeopardy," Bull said shortly after the ship moored at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, 30 miles southwest of Tokyo.
The commander stressed there was no danger to the ship's weapons area from the explosions in a 12-by-12-foot storeroom for firefighting and other emergency equipment on the fourth deck, about six decks below the flight deck.
Aside from the nine seriously injured, who were flown to hospitals ashore, seven injured crewmen were treated on the ship, the Navy said.
Bull said the casualties occurred when a firefighting crew investigated smoke coming from the storeroom shortly before noon Wednesday. The first explosion occurred when they opened the hatch and entered, he said.
For two of the sailors, "death most probably was instantaneous," Bull said. They had earlier been listed as missing.
The Pentagon identified the two dead today as Ulric Patrick Johnson of Martinez, Calif., and Jeffrey Allan Vierra of Nevada City, Calif.
Johnson, 20, was a mess management specialist and had been inducted into the service in December 1987. Vierra, also 20, was a fireman and had been inducted into the Navy in September 1988, the Pentagon said.
The names of those injured were not released.
Bull said the room was near a pipe for the ship's catapult system containing steam at 850 degrees Fahrenheit, and "water sprayed on the bulkhead turned to steam, that's how hot it was."
But he declined to speculate on the cause of the explosion or whether it was related to the steam pipe. He said the cause still was under investigation.
While Bull acknowledged there was smoke before the explosion, he said there was no proof a fire occurred.
Outside the base's gate, about 50 anti-nuclear demonstrators chanted "Don't let the Midway land here," and "Don't let in nuclear weapons."
Eight wore sashes identifying them as victims of the U.S. atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.