Nine Uwajima Fisheries High School students who survived a collision Friday between their training ship and a surfacing U.S. submarine off Hawaii arrived Tuesday afternoon at Kansai International Airport in Osaka aboard a Japan Airlines flight.
The JAL flight landed at 4:40 p.m.
The students, who appeared tired and sad, were greeted by five officials from the central and prefectural governments. They were then whisked into an immigration area to avoid a large group of reporters shouting questions at them.
Relatives of nine other Japanese students missing in the collision off Hawaii visited the site of the accident Monday local time.
The family members and Hisao Onishi, captain of the 499-ton training ship Ehime Maru, traveled to the site some 18 km south of Oahu Island aboard a chartered U.S. ship, where they threw flowers and called out the names of the missing. The training vessel is sitting on the seabed below.
The families, led by Yoshitaka Sakurada, parliamentary foreign secretary representing the Japanese government, remained at the site of the accident for some 30 minutes.
The Ehime Maru, of the Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, sank shortly after being rammed by the USS Greeneville, a 6,080-ton, 110-meter attack submarine based at Pearl Harbor.
The vessel had been carrying 13 fisheries students who were learning commercial fishing techniques. Twenty-six of the 35 aboard the vessel were rescued. The nine missing include four 17-year-old students from the Uwajima school, two of their teachers and three crew members.
During a briefing Sunday by U.S. Coast Guard officials on their search operations, the relatives strongly urged the U.S. side to raise the sunken ship, where their loved ones are believed to be trapped, and take them to the collision site.
Surviving crew members other than Onishi did not join the families, saying they did not feel like traveling to the site because it would remind them of the accident.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which was supposed to inspect the submarine Monday, said it will postpone the inspection until Tuesday. The submarine is docked at Pearl Harbor.
The NTSB said will also question the Greeneville’s crew Tuesday.
On Sunday, some 30 relatives of the victims who arrived in Honolulu earlier in the day were briefed for two hours by U.S. Navy and Coast Guard officials on the circumstances of the accident.
Grief-stricken cries asking why the accident occurred and demanding the return of their loved ones were mingled with angry outbursts at what many of the relatives see as an insufficient U.S. response to the tragedy.
In what one U.S. Coast Guard official described as “an extremely emotional exchange” for two hours, from 1:30 p.m. Sunday, the family members listened to explanations from U.S. officials on the prospects of raising the Ehime, which lies on the seabed at a depth of 550 meters.
The glimmer of hope they held since the collision faded under the gloomy realization that the ship was not likely to be raised in the near future.
Some demanded to know why the Greeneville’s captain had not made a direct apology. The relatives were apparently reluctant to accept the explanation of navy officials that the submarine was not in a position to rescue the survivors after the collision.
Relatives who attended the closed-door briefing said U.S. Navy officials read a statement of apology at the outset of the meeting but refrained from giving details about a probable cause of the collision or the course of events leading to the collision, saying either that they did not know or were in the process of investigating.
Before meeting with the U.S. officials, the relatives were briefed by the trawler’s skipper, Onishi, who gave them a vivid account of the accident at their hotel. After the meeting, Onishi was seen sobbing, holding his hand to his mouth while leaving the hotel.
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