Supervisor on Navy divers’ deaths: ‘Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong’

Posted at 5:51 PM, Jun 19, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-20 13:15:04-04

Norfolk, Va. - Company 2 of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 traveled from Little Creek to Maryland in February to prove they were competent for an upcoming deployment. But according to a diving supervisor, everything that could go wrong during training, did go wrong.

Navy Diver First Class James Rehyer and Navy Diver Second Class Ryan Harris both died at the bottom of what's called the superpond at Aberdeen Proving Ground, after spending 24 minutes underwater, when they only had enough air in their tanks for 11 minutes.

Something during their 150 foot dive went terribly wrong, with testimony suggesting that their lines got caught on something at the bottom, keeping them from resurfacing on time.

Now, their unit's master diver, Senior Chief James Burger, and their officer in charge, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Smith, are accused of culpable negligence in allowing those in their command to dive outside normal training limits, and without adequate safeguards.

According to the Navy diving manual, scuba diving is only allowed up to 130 feet, and if the dive exceeds those requirements, commander approval is needed, as well as to show the dive is an operational necessity.

Problems also came up with the diving equipment. Two of the units Mark 16 Diving Systems, which allows them to be at deep depths longer, were not working when they arrived in Maryland.

And when the leaders chose to use scuba to get to the bottom, one of the rescuers who tried to save Rehyer and Harris had his regulator freeze over in the 40 degree water.

Now a judge advocate general will be trying to decide if these senior leaders made a dangerous decision to dive against Navy guidelines, and if that is enough to charge them with involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty.