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Aberdeen 'Super Pond' ordered closed

Aberdeen Proving Ground's "Super Pond" has been closed indefinitely while investigations continue into the deaths of three divers in the underwater explosion test facility in the past month, the Army announced Friday.

Col. Gordon A. Graham, commander of the proving ground's test center, ordered the shutdown Tuesday, the day two Navy divers died while in the man-made impoundment.

Graham had ordered a "safety stand down" after a diver's death Jan. 30, but the Navy dive operation went ahead because it had already been scheduled, according to a proving ground news release. The Navy team was briefed on the Jan. 30 incident, assessed the risk and made sure safety measures were in place before proceeding, the release said.

The Super Pond was developed to provide the Navy with a site to conduct underwater explosion tests that would not harm fish or other aquatic creatures. More than 1,000 feet long and 150 feet deep, the pond, carved out of the bank of the Bush River, has been used to shock-test ships, submarines, torpedoes, missiles and other systems. It's also been used for training exercises. Since its opening in 1995, there had been no fatalities or serious injuries until this year.

The first diver to die in the Super Pond was George H. Lazzaro Jr., 41, of Nottingham. An engineering technician in the Firepower Directorate of the Aberdeen Test Center, Lazzaro was said to be doing routine maintenance on the facility's infrastructure when he died.

The victims this week were identified as Navy Diver 1st Class James Reyher, 28, of Caldwell, Ohio, and Navy Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris, 23, of Gladstone, Mo. They were members of a mobile diving and salvage unit based in Virginia Beach, Va.

Lazzaro's death is being investigated by Army criminal investigators and safety officers as well as the civilian U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The Navy divers' deaths are being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in cooperation with the Army.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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