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September 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 40, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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“Both Divers Resisted the Natural Instincts of Self-Preservation”

from the September, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In our July 2013 issue, we reported on two Navy scuba divers, Ryan Harris and James Reyher, who died on February 26, 2013, while training in a military test pond in Aberdeen, MD. Both died on the bottom after spending 24 minutes underwater, where virtually everything went wrong. Their equipment didn't work right, the communication with sailors on the surface wasn't clear, and debris trapped Reyher about 150 feet underwater.

But there's more to the story. According to a report in The Virginian-Pilot last month, Harris, 23, had the option to cut the line connecting him to Reyher, 28, and survive. He refused to do it, though, instead doing everything in his power to free Reyher, 28, until both men died. "Harris exhausted himself in an attempt to save Reyher," a military investigator wrote. "Both divers resisted the natural instincts of self-preservation, in order to expel his last breaths in an effort to save each other."

The men were with a Navy mobile diving and salvage unit. Rescue divers tried twice to save them, but their bodies were lifeless when they were brought to the surface 31 minutes after they started their dive. Navy officials say Harris will posthumously receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, which is awarded to service members who demonstrate heroism in an event not involving an armed conflict.

The incident resulted in discipline for at least five personnel, and the commanding officer of the diving unit was removed from his job in May 2013 after an investigation determined that there were problems in his unit. The unit's master diver was found guilty in January 2014 of dereliction of duty for conducting the dive without proper safeguards, and he was reduced one rank.

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