USS Fitzgerald officer pleads guilty to role in fatal collision

USS Fitzgerald officer pleads guilty to role in fatal collision

May 9 (UPI) — A junior Navy officer pleaded guilty to her role in the deadly collision between the USS Fitzgerald and the container ship MCX Crystal last year.

Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock was sentenced to receive half-pay for three months and a letter of reprimand on Tuesday. Her sentence capped a plea agreement she made with military prosecutors before a special court-martial was supposed to begin at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C..

Coppock, who was the officer of the deck at the time of the incident, is the first of four officers charged in relation to the USS Fitzgerald’s collision off the coast of Japan in June. Seven sailors died in the collision.

“Not a day goes by where I haven’t thought about what I could have done differently,” Coppock said in court. “There is nothing I can do now but take responsibility.”

Coppock said she “failed” her squadrons and “made some tremendously bad decisions.”

Prosecutors said Coppock “chose to be blind” and “failed to give the crew a notice” even when a collision was inevitable.

The junior Navy officer admitted she did not contact Cmdr. Bryce Benson when a ship sailed within 6,000 yards of the destroyer. Her failure to notify the captain occurred 13 times during her four-hour watch the night of the incident. Some ships came as close as 650 yards of the destroyer.

The U.S. Navy concluded in November the collision was “avoidable” and was the result of multiple human errors.

Investigators found that naval officers on the USS Fitzgerald possessed an “unsatisfactory level of knowledge of the International Rules of the Nautical Road,” and that “watch team members were not familiar with basic radar fundamentals, impeding effective use.”