Family: sailor's body recovered; missing since boarding overloaded ship in Persian Gulf

Saturday, November 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ The military has recovered the body of a missing U.S. Navy sailor, presumed drowned after a decrepit, overloaded ship sank in the Persian Gulf, the sailor's father said.

Kenneth Johnson said he received a telephone call from Navy officials on Friday confirming that divers had found his son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Benjamin Johnson.

``My first reaction was that there might be a tiny tunnel of hope,'' Kenneth Johnson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home in Rochester, N.Y.

Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Timothy Blair, confirmed Saturday that Benjamin Johnson's body had been recovered.

Johnson said the government notified him that his son's body would be taken to Bahrain for an autopsy and that the family could claim it as early as next week.

``At first, I thought it was a mistake and that they could still find him,'' Kenneth Johnson said. ``Now there's no doubt he's really dead.''

Benjamin Johnson, 21, was identified by a Pentagon official as one of two U.S. sailors missing after boarding a rickety United Arab Emirates-flagged tanker that sank.

Sailors from the USS Peterson had boarded the Samra because it was thought to be smuggling Iraqi oil in violation of international sanctions. The tanker sank shortly after they boarded before dawn Sunday. The Navy rescued six U.S. sailors and 10 Iraqi crew members and recovered the body of two Iraqi sailors.