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Navy Investigation: SEALs who died in Virginia Beach training pool were likely holding their breath

Posted at 6:11 PM, Nov 24, 2015

Virginia Beach, Va. (WTKR) - The drowning deaths of two decorated Navy SEALs in a training pool in Virginia Beach likely happened as the pair practiced holding their breath underwater.

SO1 Brett Allen Marihugh and SO1 Seth Cody Lewis died after being found unresponsive at the bottom of the pool on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in late April.

The Navy's investigation into their deaths was provided to NewsChannel 3 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

No video of the training facility shows exactly what happened to Marihugh and Lewis, nor were there any eyewitnesses to the actual drownings.

However, investigators said the most likely scenario was that the drownings happened as result of breath-holding, based on witnesses who saw the pair before they were found at the bottom of the Combat Swimmer Training Facility and by those who attempted to rescue them.

In his endorsement of the report, Rear Admiral Brian Losey, commander of Navy Special Warfare Command, wrote:

"SO1 Seth Lewis’ and SO1 Brett Marihugh’s deaths occurred in the line of duty and were not due to misconduct. They were qualified swim buddies, yet both drowned during off-hour physical conditioning in a combat swimmer trainer facility because they knowingly disregarded breath holding safety guidance. This high-risk evolution should only take place in a controlled environment under supervision of qualified trainers with appropriate life-saving equipment at the pool or if essential during a mission."

As a result of the investigation, new safety guidelines are being put into place by December 15th that include raising awareness of the dangers of breath-holding

"Our SEAL Ethos demands us to be “to be physically harder and mentally stronger” than our enemies and reminds us that our “training is never complete.” However, our commitment to be the best and push ourselves to ever higher levels of proficiency must be tempered by safety compliance that is often learned from a past tragedy like this one. Overconfidence is an ever present risk factor," Rear Admiral Losey wrote in his endorsement.

Losey went on to commend Lewis and Marihugh as "dedicated patriots who served our nation with honor. They will be missed."

Those sentiments  echoed that of another investigator who wrote that even though the pair was "violating policy by engaging in the dangerous activity of breath-holding," they were "doing so in an effort to become a better combat swimmer" and that dedication "is both honorable and noteworthy, and should not be forgotten."

Click here to read Rear Admiral Losey's endorsement of the investigation.