US and Japanese vessels and aircraft are searching for seven American sailors who are missing after their Navy destroyer collided before dawn with a container ship four times its size off the coast of Japan. The USS Fitzgerald was back at its home port in Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo by sunset Saturday, following the crash at 2:20am local time. The USS Fitzgerald's captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was airlifted early Saturday to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka and was in stable condition with a head injury; two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were evacuated, reports the AP. The US 7th Fleet said in a statement that the crash damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room, and the radio room, and CNN says its statement suggests the missing could be in the ship's crushed mid-right side.
"It remains uncertain how long it will take to gain access to the spaces once the ship is pier side ... to methodically continue the search for the missing," the statement said. Most of the more than 200 sailors aboard would have been asleep in their berths at the time of the pre-dawn crash. The Navy said that the collision occurred 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, home to the 7th Fleet. The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tons, making it much larger than the 8,315-ton Navy destroyer. The container ship's left bow was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage. The Philippine-flagged container ship was berthed at Tokyo's Oi wharf, where officials began questioning crew members about the cause of the crash and are treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence. (Read more Navy stories.)