DOVER, Del. - The remains of five of the 17 sailors lost in the explosion that tore into the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden arrived at Dover Air Force Base yesterday, where they were greeted by a military honor guard and the parents of one of the deceased, Seaman Apprentice Craig Wibberley of Williamsport, Md.
The C-17 military transport plane bearing the coffins from Germany landed here at about 1:50 p.m. A Navy chaplain went aboard and blessed the bodies before the coffins were carried by naval pallbearers past two rows of honor guards to separate hearses.
"A very solemn ceremony was held here ... in honor of these young Americans who gave their lives," said Maj. Frank Smolinsky, director of public affairs at the base.
After the ceremony, the remains were driven to a mortuary on the base, where they were to be prepared for transport to the sailors' hometowns. Smolinsky said he did not know when the bodies would be moved.
FBI investigators were to examine the remains for possible clues to the explosion. Wibberley's was the only one of the five identified by military authorities.
His parents, Tom and Patricia Wibberley, arrived at the base's main gate shortly before the ceremony. They were met by Vice Adm. Norb Ryan Jr., chief of Navy personnel, and a Navy chaplain.
Some 200 to 300 people attended the ceremony, which was closed to the public and the media.
Two other Marylanders are missing and presumed dead: Fireman Apprentice Patrick Roy of Keedysville and Engineman Fireman Joshua Parlett of Churchville. Another victim, Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow, of Morrisville, Pa., had been living at Patuxent Naval Air Station.
Parlett's parents, Roy and Etta Parlett, said they were visited yesterday by a Navy officer who told them their son's status was changed from missing in action to lost.
"That means they consider him dead, but they haven't found him yet," said Roy Parlett, as he stood outside his modest ranch house late yesterday afternoon with his wife and a dozen well-wishers.
The Parletts said they continued to be hopeful that their son would be found alive. "Our God can produce miracles - that's what we're counting on, " said Parlett, who helped found a nondenominational church this year near his Harford County home.
Roy's family received similar news yesterday. "This is very rough. We are having a very tough time," said his stepmother, Anne Roy.
Thirty-two injured crew members being treated at a U.S. military hospital in Ramstein, Germany, were pronounced well enough to travel yesterday and were expected to arrive today in Norfolk, Va. - the Cole's home port. They will be sent to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital for treatment, Adm. Robert Natter, the commander of the Atlantic Fleet, said yesterday. The names of the injured and the extent of their injuries were not immediately released. "To my knowledge, none is on the critical list," Natter said
The Cole will be carried back to Norfolk on the deck of a commercial "heavy-lift vessel," the Blue Marlin, Natter said. The Blue Marlin has a large open deck, like an ocean-going flatbed truck. The Cole's crew members will stay on board until the ship is lifted; then most will be flown home.
Lt. Terrence Dudley, a U.S. Navy spokesman in Aden, said 40 FBI agents and Department of Defense specialists from Washington's Foreign Emergency Support Team arrived in the city yesterday. Their mission: "advise, assist and assess," tasks that began almost immediately after the explosion, apparently detonated by two men in a small boat, ripped a 40-by-40-foot hole in the Cole.
More than 100 FBI evidence and explosives experts, including those in the group that arrived yesterday, were expected in Aden by the end of the weekend. In addition, a 22-member engineering team and 22,000 pounds of heavy equipment were headed to Yemen to recover bodies still in the ship, Dudley said.
Sun staff writer Craig Evans and the Associated Press contributed to this article.