Navy Officer Drowns Refusing To Leave Trapped Diver

| by Jonathan Wolfe

Last year, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Harris and Petty Officer 1st Class James Reyher died during a diving exercise at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The Navy carried out an extensive investigation of what caused the tragedy, and released their findings to the public this week.

The investigation revealed that Harris, 23, died trying to save Reyher.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, the men were supposed to dive using Mark 16 breathing apparatuses, but the equipment was malfunctioning on the day of the exercise. The second option was to dive while connected to a barge that would provide a limitless air supply, but the barge was blocked by another nearby training exercise. The third option, which was ultimately used, was for the officers to use scuba gear.

The Virginian-Pilot reports that the men were only sent down with a single canister of air. The investigation found the canister would have been enough to supply the men if everything went as planned, but left no reserve supplies if unexpected trouble occurred.

Reyher and Harris were 150 feet down when Reyher was ensnared by debris. He unsuccessfully struggled to break free, and Harris rushed over to help.  Harris couldn’t free him either. The investigation found that Harris could have separated himself from Reyher at any point and swam up to safety, but he refused to. He died trying to save Reyher.

“Harris exhausted himself in an attempt to save Reyher,” the investigator found. “Both divers resisted the natural instincts of self-preservation, in order to expel his last breaths in an effort to save each other.”

Harris will receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal posthumously for his sacrifice.

The deaths resulted in discipline for five Navy personnel. Four were charged with dereliction of duty after refusing to accept administrative punishment. The Navy Times reports that Senior Chief Navy Diver James Burger was also convicted of dereliction of duty for conducting the dive without proper safeguards. 

Sources: The Virginian-Pilot, Washington Post, Navy Times

Photo Credit: Seaman Jah'mai C.J. Stokes/U.S. Navy