Air Crew Exposed to Radiation, USS Reagan Diverted

By R. Stickney
|  Monday, Mar 14, 2011  |  Updated 1:03 PM PDT
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An HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Black Knights of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 4 launches from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan is off the coast of Japan rendering humanitarian assistance following an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

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The San Diego-based USS Ronald Reagan, sent to Japan to help in the disaster relief effort, has been diverted after the discovery of low-level radioactive contamination on more than a dozen crew members.

The U.S. Navy repositioned the carrier Monday after detecting low levels of contamination on 17 air crew members who were reportedly party of earthquake relief missions near Japan's Fukushina Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power plant.

The radiation exposure was described as low by the U.S. Navy and was removed with soap and water, according to a military news release.

In a letter to friends and family of USS Reagan crew, Capt. Thom Burke said all personnel aboard the aircraft carrier are safe and healthy.

"We have extensive technical expertise onboard to properly monitor such types of risks, and if necessary, rapidly resolve the situation," Burke posted.

The fleet said the dose of radiation was about the same as one month's normal exposure to natural background radiation in the environment.

"We have closely monitored spaces, evaluated everyone who has flown or worked on the flight deck and cleaned the aircraft," Burke said. "I have not seen any levels of radiation or contamination that would cause me to have any significant concerns at all."

Ships and aircraft with the U.S. Seventh Fleet have also been diverted out of the downwind direction.

Two other San Diego-based warships, the destroyer Preble and the cruiser Chancellorsville, also are off Honshu, helping with the relief effort.

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