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Four sailors face court-martials in Super Pond deaths

Four sailors are to be court-martialed on charges stemming from the deaths of two Navy divers in the Super Pond at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a Navy spokesman said Monday.

Lt. Nathan Potter, a spokesman for the Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2, said the names of the sailors and the charges against them would be made public at their arraignments this week. Each faces trial before a special court-martial, expected before the end of the year.

The sailors all are members of the elite Mobile Salvage and Diving Unit 2, based in Virginia Beach, Va. Two members of the unit drowned Feb. 26 during training at the Underwater Explosive Test Facility, known as the Super Pond, at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Unit members told a hearing officer in June that Diver 1st Class James Reyher, 29, and Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris, 22, died after their underwater breathing units failed and a line that tethered them to the surface became tangled.

The Navy said in August that five sailors faced discipline in the incident.

They included Chief Warrant Officer Mark Smith, the officer in charge on the day of the dive, and Dive Senior Chief James Burger, the dive master. Smith and Burger were the subjects of the June hearing, which was convened to weigh charges of involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty.

The Navy has not released the names of the three other sailors.

Potter said Monday that one of the five had accepted administrative action and would not be referred to a special court-martial. He said he could not release the name of the sailor, the charges against him or the administrative action.

Of the four who remain, two are tentatively scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., and two Thursday. Each arraignment is expected to take about 10 minutes.

The Super Pond is a 150-foot-deep tank that was carved out of the bank of the Bush River in the 1990s to give the military, private contractors and academics a place to test missiles, torpedoes, sonar and the effects of explosions on submarines and boats.

Navy divers also use it to practice salvage missions in a controlled environment.

Reyher and Harris were the second and third divers to die at the Super Pond in less than a month. George H. Lazzaro Jr., a former Marine working as a civilian engineering technician in the Firepower Directorate of the Aberdeen Test Center, died Jan. 30 while performing routine maintenance.

After Lazzaro's death, the federal government's workplace safety watchdog reported "serious" violations of commercial diving safety standards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the Aberdeen Test Center failed to leave a qualified person above the water to manage the dive, conducted the dive without a standby diver, and kept no reserve breathing air supply, among other violations.

OSHA is not investigating the deaths of Reyher and Harris because its jurisdiction does not extend to active-duty military personnel.

Until Lazzaro's death, Army officials said, there had been no injuries reported at the Super Pond. The facility has been closed since the deaths of Reyher and Harris.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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