The search for two Navy SEALs missing at sea since Thursday, Jan. 11, is ongoing, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
The SEALs, operating from the Expeditionary Support Base USS Lewis B. Puller, were boarding an un-flagged vessel at night when one fell into the ocean. Another SEAL jumped in to rescue him.
On Tuesday, U.S. Central Command announced Iranian ballistic and cruise missile components bound for Yemen were found on the ship, which was subsequently deemed unsafe and sunk by U.S. Navy forces.
For two months, Houthi rebels in Yemen have been launching missile and drone attacks on vessels they say are flying Israeli flags or are bound for Israel but ships from other nations, including the U.S., have been targeted.
U.S. Navy and allied warships have successfully shot down numerous missiles and drones, according to defense officials.
Ed Hiner, a retired Navy lieutenant commander in San Diego who spent more than 20 years in the SEALs, says boat to boat raids are among the most dangerous SEAL operations. SEALs have to pull up alongside the ship in a much smaller craft, hook a small cabled ladder to the other ship and climb.
“Everyone that does it in the SEAL teams realizes that’s one of the sketchiest things we do,” Hiner said. “Oftentimes at first, when you’re getting out of the boat with the heavy sea states, the first five or six (rungs), or maybe eight, you don’t have any legs under you because the boat’s flopping around … with the ladder.”
Hiner said SEALs on such operations, while weighed down with armor and weapons, are also often equipped with inflatable equipment should they fall overboard. They also carry infrared strobes visible from ships and personnel equipped with night vision.
But after six days, Hiner said, the odds are against survival.
“It’s a long time to be in the water,” he said. “The water’s probably 75, 80 degrees out there which you can survive in for a long time. But I just don’t think it’s probable at this point.”
Pentagon press secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at a news conference Wednesday the search will continue.
“That effort it is ongoing,” Ryder said. “Certainly, you know, we hope that we are able to recover our teammates. Our thoughts and prayers are clearly with their families at this time.”
A San Diego defense official told KPBS that historically, it’s SEALs based here who deploy to the Central Command area of operations in the Middle East.
A U.S. Central Command official declined to say whether the SEALs are attached to a San Diego-based team.