HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - One Navy SEAL candidate died, and a second was in the hospital after falling ill just hours after they successfully completed the grueling Hell Week test that ends the first phase of assessment and selection for Navy commandos, the Navy said Saturday.
"It's a shame what happened to that young man. Anyone who dies in training... such a tragedy," said Don Mann, a retired Navy Seal from Team 1, 2 and 6.
The Navy said both were rushed to the hospital in California. The Navy said neither one had experienced an accident or unusual incident during the five-and-a-half-day Hell Week.
"Hell Week is considered the most difficult week in training in the world and in military. It happens around week five," said Mann. "You are pushing yourself hard - paddling in the ocean, doing small boat drills, all of it basically without sleep. You lose most of your team during that whole week; most of your class quits."
The test is part of the SEALs BUD/S class, which involves basic underwater demolition, survival and other combat tactics. It comes in the fourth week as SEAL candidates are being assessed and hoping to be selected for training within the Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command.
One of the candidates, 24-year-old Seaman Kyle Mullen of Manalapan, New Jersey, died at Sharp Coronado Hospital in Coronado, California, on Friday. The other was in stable condition at Naval Medical Center San Diego.
Mullen was a SEAL candidate assigned to Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command.
The Navy said the cause of death was not immediately known and was under investigation.
Mann believes the seal candidate could have died of hypothermia.
"You're in the water a long period of time and shivering and freezing cold," said Mann.
The SEAL program tests physical and psychological strength, along with water competency and leadership skills. The program is so grueling that at least 50% to 60% don’t make it through Hell Week when candidates are pushed to the limit.
"SEAL instructors are the best in the world at what they do, and they have to make the training very difficult because these guys are preparing to go on missions are the country's most dangerous missions," said Mann.
Mann calls the process of investigating this death and injury a double-edged sword.
"It's looked at very, very seriously, and the commanders and the leaders of generals and the admirals get together and they look at this to ensure it doesn't happen again," said Mann.
The last SEAL candidate to die during the assessment phase was 21-year-old Seaman James Derek Lovelace in 2016. He was struggling to tread water in full gear in a giant pool when his instructor pushed him underwater at least twice. He lost consciousness and died.
His death was initially ruled a homicide by the San Diego County Medical Examiner. A year later, after an investigation, the Navy said it would not pursue criminal charges in Lovelace's drowning. An autopsy revealed he had an enlarged heart that contributed to his death, and that he also had an abnormal coronary artery, which has been associated with sudden cardiac death, especially in athletes.
It was unclear from the autopsy report how much Lovelace’s heart abnormalities contributed to his death.
The latest death also comes just two months after a Navy SEAL commander died from injuries he suffered during a training accident in Virginia Beach. Cmdr. Brian Bourgeois, 43, fell while fast-roping down from a helicopter, and he died several days later.