GW Skipper, XO Sacked Following May Fire

Investigation Blames Blaze On Unauthorized Smoking, Poor Storage Of Flammables

SAN DIEGO — The skipper and executive officer of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington were relieved Wednesday, Navy officials said, two months after a major at-sea fire raced through 80 spaces on the ship. Investigators determined that the blaze was started when unauthorized smoking ignited improperly stowed flammables nearby, the Navy said

The Navy’s Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Robert F. Willard, in his final endorsement of an investigation into the fire, directed that Capt. David C. Dykhoff and his executive officer be relieved of command.

Dykhoff was fired “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command and his failure to meet mission requirements and readiness standards,” Navy officials said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

That same day, Naval Air Forces commander Vice Adm. Thomas Kilcline relieved Dykhoff and also fired the ship’s executive officer, Capt. David M. Dober, “for substandard performance,” according to the statement.

Capt. J.R. Haley, who recently commanded the carrier Theodore Roosevelt, has replaced Dykhoff, and Capt. Karl O. Thomas, the executive officer of the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, has been reassigned as GW’s executive officer.

Willard’s recommendations came as he finalized the PacFleet investigation. Navy officials did not provide details on additional actions or punishment of other crew members recommended in the investigation report.

The investigation found that the likely cause of the fire, which caused $70 million in damage, “was unauthorized smoking that ignited flammable liquids and other combustible material improperly stored in an adjacent space,” officials said in the statement. “The fire and the subsequent magnitude of the fire were the result of a series of human acts that could have been prevented. Specifically, the storage of 90 gallons of refrigerant compressor oil in an unauthorized space contributed to the intensity of the fire.”

Navy officials did not release a copy of the report or Willard’s endorsement. However, Capt. Scott Gureck, a Pacific Fleet spokesman, said a redacted copy of the investigation probably would be released in a few weeks, once all disciplinary and administrative actions have been completed.

Rear Adm. Richard Wren, who commands Task Force 70 aboard the Kitty Hawk, “has been directed to consider administrative and disciplinary actions he deems appropriate for those individuals involved in the fire,” Gureck said.

The fire broke out near the auxiliary boiler room shortly before 8 a.m. on May 22 as the carrier began an underway replenishment with another ship near the Galapagos Islands. It quickly spread to nearby exhaust and ventilation trunks and supply spaces, burning in 80 spaces for 12 hours before firefighting teams doused the blaze. In all, 37 sailors were treated for minor injuries, including one sailor who suffered first- and second-degree burns.

George Washington had left its previous homeport of Norfolk, Va., in the spring for its new home in Yokosuka, Japan, where it would replace the conventionally powered Kitty Hawk and join the Forward Deployed Naval Forces, becoming the first nuclear-powered carrier to be based in the region.

The fire has forced the delays in the turnover of both ships and crews in San Diego, now scheduled to begin Aug. 7 when the Kitty Hawk arrives in San Diego, Navy officials said.

George Washington is slated to leave San Diego on Aug. 21 for Japan, where the ship is expected to arrive in late September, they added.

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