Cmdr. Scott Waddle met privately with families of the victims who perished in the deadly collision between the USS Greeneville submarine and a Japanese fishing trawler.
Sources inside the room tell ABCNEWS Waddle offered a tearful apology and that Japanese family members of those aboard the trawler, the Ehime Maru, also wept. In a Reuters report, a woman noticed that the commander "appeared in the room and bowed and tears fell to the floor."
The meeting came at the close of the fourth day of the Navy's ongoing Court of Inquiry at the Pearl Harbor naval base.
Waddle had attempted to apologize to the victims' families during the proceedings earlier in the day. But the meeting was postponed until the end of the day's session so that all of the Japanese family members could be present.
Nine Japanese who were aboard the Ehime Maru when it was hit by the Greeneville just south of Pearl Harbor one month ago today are missing and presumed dead.
"We really wanted him to apologize and he did so today," said Ryosuke Terata, who lost his 17-year-old son on the boat. "As far as his apology is concerned, I don't think we are going to push this any stronger."
Questioning has centered around why the sub's officers did not get the key information that a ship appeared to be about 2 miles from the Greeneville before it surfaced.
The bulk of Thursday's hearings centered on the role of Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Seacrest, the sub's fire control technician. Attorneys said that Seacrest, 34, failed to relay critical information to Cmdr. Waddle prior to the collision.
"That's one of the things that could have changed history," said Admiral Charles Griffiths, who is in charge of the Navy's initial investigation.
Six minutes before the accident, Seacrest thought one of the ships he was tracking was about 9 miles from the sub. Only 15 seconds later, Seacrest reworked the data, and the computer placed the ship some 2 miles away — though it is generally accepted these analyses are not always accurate.
A String of Poor Decisions
Griffiths said he believed Waddle "was not criminally negligent" under cross examination from Waddle's attorney, who has asserted his client's actions were not reckless the day of the accident.
However, Griffiths and other Navy investigators looking into the crash have cited a series of bad decisions by Waddle and some of his crew that preceded the crash.
Waddle, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer — his No. 2 officer on the Greeneville — and officer of the deck, Lt. Michael Coen, are all subjects of the probe.
Investigators said the Greeneville had been behind schedule to return to port with its 16 civilian guests, and suggested that crucial sonar and periscope searches of the ocean's surface were conducted too hastily.
Investigators have been trying to locate the Greeneville's "watchbill" that would have listed all the naval personnel and their duty stations aboard the submarine that day.
The Navy has now completed its damage assessment of the submarine, ABCNEWS has learned, and it is less than initially believed. The Greeneville suffered mainly cosmetic damage, but it still may require several million dollars to repair.
Investigators said they found that a key piece of equipment commanders use to monitor sonar information from the bridge was not working. A trainee was said to be monitoring sonar contacts from the sonar room, under occasional, instead of the required constant supervision.
The Navy also received a report from its salvage contractor, Smit-Tak, on the feasibility of salvaging the Ehime Maru. The trawler still lies on the ocean's floor 9 miles south of Waikiki Beach.
A decision on how to proceed with a salvage mission is expected sometime next week.
Griffiths said there were opportunities for Seacrest to speak up.
But at the very moment Seacrest got his new information, the sub was coming up to periscope depth — a time when silence is the order of the day.
It has been suggested that civilians aboard the sub may have distracted the crew. Seacrest reportedly has said he stayed silent because the civilians were blocking his view of the officer on deck. And he apparently believed Waddle already had access to the information he needed from the ship's sonar.
Seacrest, assigned to the Greeneville two years ago, has worked as a fire control technician for at least nine years.
Crew members close to Seacrest told ABCNEWS he believes the full story behind the fatal accident has not been made public and the complete picture of what happened at the fire control station is much more complicated than the U.S. Navy has so far portrayed.
However, investigators say his workload was not unreasonable and that Seacrest should have been communicating what he was seeing to Waddle. Experienced submariners said they can't understand how a communication lag could have happened.
"All contacts are continuously reported to the captain and the officer of the deck because if you don't have that contact information, you cannot make a rational judgment," said retired U.S. Navy Capt. James Bush.
Reported by ABCNEWS’ Barbara Starr, Lisa Stark and ABCNEWS Radio's Steve Walsh from Pearl Harbor. ABCNEWS.com's David Ruppe also contributed to this report.