Navy disciplines five sailors in Super Pond drownings

The Navy announced Wednesday that it had taken administrative or disciplinary actions against five sailors, including two facing possible military trial, after an investigation into the deaths of two divers who drowned during training in February at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The sailors may choose whether to accept the disciplinary action. If they reject it, their commander could pursue a court-martial, a Navy spokesman said.

The Navy would not name the sailors, say whether they chose to accept the discipline, or what punishments were proposed. But officials confirmed that Chief Warrant Officer 3rd Class Mark Smith and Dive Senior Chief James Burger — who were subject to an investigative hearing in June — are among them. All are members of the elite Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, based in Virginia Beach.

The five are the first to be punished in the deaths of Diver 1st Class James Reyher and Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris, who plunged into the Harford County military base's Underwater Explosive Test Facility, known as the Super Pond, on Feb. 26. Witnesses said the men died after their underwater breathing units failed and a line that tethered them to their boat became tangled.

The administrative and disciplinary action comes as a result of the June 19-20 hearing investigating the incident. At that hearing, the Navy considered whether to file charges against two senior leaders on the dive team. Smith, the officer in charge, and Burger, the dive master, could have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty.

Navy officials would not say whether Smith and Burger accepted the disciplinary action. If they reject it, the decision to pursue other action, including a court-martial, would be up to Capt. John Coffey, commander of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2, which oversees the diving unit.

A separate safety investigation is under way, Navy officials said.

The Super Pond, used frequently by the dive team, is a 150-foot-deep facility carved out of the bank of the Bush River and used 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.

Until Lazzaro's death, Army officials said, not one injury had been reported at the Super Pond, which was built in 1995.

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