PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) — Navy admirals watched a computerized simulation Friday of the periscope search conducted before a U.S. submarine struck and sank a Japanese fishing vessel.
The video showed how easy it would have been for USS Greeneville Cmdr. Scott Waddle and another officer to miss the boat in choppy seas and overcast skies with only 80 seconds devoted to the search.
It also showed how the 180-foot ship would have been clearly visible had Waddle conducted a standard three-minute search at a higher power and depth.
Vice Adm. John Nathman, who is presiding over a Navy court of inquiry into the collision, said the court would not draw sweeping conclusions based on the re-enactment.
"There's nothing absolute about this," he said. "This is a way of finding out what we can diverge from."
Navy Capt. Thomas Kyle, who assisted the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation, said the simulations factored in the depth of the submarine, the length of the periscope search, the weather conditions the day of the accident and the size and coloring of the Ehime Maru.
The high school fisheries training vessel sank in 2,003 feet of water south of Oahu after the Greeneville surfaced underneath it while conducting a rapid-ascent drill on Feb. 9. Nine men and boys were killed.
Sixteen civilian visitors were aboard Greeneville at the time of the accident. Kyle said there was "mild hysteria" among some of the guests following the collision.
Kyle is the second naval officer to testify at the inquiry, which could lead to courts-martial of Waddle; the executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer; and the officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen.
Wave heights have been estimated at between 3 and 6 feet, with an 8-foot swell, on the day of the collision. Factoring in the hazy conditions, the simulation showed the Ehime Maru as a split-second, mostly wave-obscured blip on the screen at the depth Coen conducted an initial periscope search.
The white ship was similarly hard to spot in the simulation of the second periscope search conducted by Waddle at a higher power and depth of 57 feet. At that point, the periscope would have been about 7 1/2 feet out of the water in a calm sea.
Kyle then showed a simulation of a more ideal, 360-degree sweep done at high power with the submarine nearly skimming the ocean surface and the periscope 10 to 12 feet exposed. The ship was clearly visible in the sweep, which lasted three minutes.
"That's a very obvious presentation of the ship. You would stop and look at that," Kyle said.
Waddle's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, questioned the validity of the reconstruction. Gittins said the reconstruction was based on data from the submarine's sonar logger, and that such data had not been used before to reconstruct a visual sweep.
Waddle's wife, meanwhile, told "NBC Nightly News" that her husband "relives looking through the periscope a lot."
"I know it's very emotional for him," Jill Waddle said.
Kyle said a longer search by the Greeneville's sonar team would have prevented errors that led to the sinking. "A little bit more time ... would have made it clear as could be" that the Ehime Maru was within 1 1/2 miles of the submarine before the collision, he said.
The inquiry, in its fifth day, has focused in part on the role of the sub's fire control technician. Rear Adm. Charles Griffiths Jr., who headed the Navy's preliminary investigation, testified the technician stopped manually plotting sonar contacts and did not notify Waddle about a nearby contact because he was distracted by civilians who were crammed into the control room.
Griffiths said Thursday the collision probably wouldn't have occurred had Waddle been notified of the sonar contact.
Rear Adm. Paul Sullivan, one of three admirals overseeing the court, asked Kyle on Friday whether more time would have allowed the submarine's sonar operators to gather better information on the contact now known to have been the Ehime Maru.
"When you press the clock, in the back of my head, you run the risk that your solutions are not going to be as good as they should be," Sullivan said.
Sullivan, Nathman and Rear Adm. David Stone will forward recommendations about possible disciplinary action and policy changes to Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Fargo will take final action.
Marking the one-month anniversary of the accident, a relative of one of the nine killed said tensions in the courtroom had eased since Waddle made a tearful apology to the grieving families Thursday.
"We understand that he knew our feelings and he couldn't stand staying silent anymore," said Ryosuke Terata, who lost his son. "Even though we can't forgive him for causing the accident, after all, we think he is a good person."