"I want to tell my parents I am alive," Kamado said.
Because of the swells, the Greeneville could not immediately open its hatches to take the survivors on board, Adm. Thomas Fargo, the senior naval officer in the Pacific, said at a news conference here.
Nonetheless, "the submarine was involved immediately in the rescue effort, providing the initial search and communication back to those on shore in Hawaii," he said.
But late Saturday evening, Onishi challenged Fargo's description of the submarine's part in the rescue effort. He didn't think the waves were too high, he said.
"I thought, 'Why doesn't the sub even have a rescue raft?' " Onishi recounted. "I thought that there would be a raft or safety equipment, however, nothing was done. They just watched us."
Fargo said the submarine apparently was practicing an emergency surfacing maneuver when it struck the Ehime Maru, which carried students from a vocational high school in southwestern Japan, some of whom were training to be commercial fishermen.
In both normal and emergency surfacings, the submarine's crew conducts a sonar scan and a visual check through the periscope before surfacing to make sure that the way is clear, submarine experts said.
But the emergency procedure is far faster than normal. After making the sonar and visual inspection, the submarine dives and then surfaces again quickly, said Lt. Cmdr. Dave Werner, public affairs officer for the commander of submarine forces in the Pacific.
The boat shoots toward the surface at a 30-degree angle, with crew members forced to hang on to fixtures to keep from toppling. "You really rocket up there," said retired Vice Adm. Bernard Kauderer, former commander of submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific fleet.
The emergency drill, usually done once a year, was initiated after the Thresher disaster in 1963, when a crippled submarine found itself unable to surface.
The entire procedure, Kauderer said, should take only two minutes or less. If a careful search had been made with sonar and periscope, there should not have been enough time for a surface ship to enter the area.
"It is not yet clear how the accident occurred," said Fargo, who visited the Japanese consulate in Honolulu on Saturday. "It is both tragic and regrettable. I would like to extend my apologies to all those involved, the families and the government of Japan."
Equipment failures--or failure of the submarine crew to follow procedures--can result in collisions, Kauderer and other former submariners said Saturday as they puzzled over just what happened off the Hawaiian coast.
Sonar isn't perfect and can fail to detect surface ships that are not running their engines. Sonar also has trouble detecting ships that are directly behind the submarine or directly approaching it.
A submarine captain, before surfacing, needs to reposition his vessel so that the sonar can sweep those "deaf" spots. Failure to do so can lead to a collision.
In addition, during a normal surfacing, if a captain spots a ship through his periscope, he has only a few seconds to respond to avoid a collision. Any pause in following the captain's orders to take evasive action also can end in a collision.
In a 1989 collision between a surfacing submarine and a tugboat off Southern California, the captain was later criticized for not having turned the submarine so that the sonar could complete its sweep.
A retired Navy officer, who asked to remain unidentified, said he had never heard of a case similar to the Hawaiian accident during his career.
"This is amazing. It must have been really a freak thing," the former officer said, noting that submarines follow procedures that never vary.
But Navy officials acknowledged that waves, fog and rain can sometimes make it hard to see and hear other vessels.
Norman Polmar, a naval analyst and author based in Alexandria, Va., said that the most likely reasons for the collision were either a deficient procedure for surfacing or, more probably, "someone did something wrong or didn't do it well enough."
Submarines only surface during exercises when they are about to enter port. A surfacing submarine normally relies on sonar to check for propeller noise. During daylight hours, the sub levels off at a specified depth to use its periscope to search the surrounding area, he said.
Retired Adm. Archie Clemins, a former submariner and commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said it is possible that temperature changes in the water kept the Greeneville's sonar from hearing noise from the Japanese trawler.
"The submarine quite easily could have used his sonar and done everything right but still heard nothing," Clemins said, adding that the area off Diamond Head is known for choppy seas and is a fairly heavily traveled route for both military and civilian ships.
"Surfacing there is never, never a routine procedure," he said.