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Navy probes deaths of 2 divers at Maryland Army site

Navy Divers Die1.jpg

Feb. 25, 2013: This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows a test pond at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md.AP2008

The deaths of two sailors who perished during routine diving operations at a test pond are not believed to be connected to a death late last month at the same site, the Navy said.

One diver was pronounced dead at the scene, the other was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead later. Both were members of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 based in Virginia Beach, Va. They died at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Officials said Wednesday that 28-year-old Navy Diver 1st Class James Reyher of Caldwell, Ohio, and Navy Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris of Gladstone, Mo., died Tuesday at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in northeastern Maryland.

Harris and Reyher were assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Va.

The sailors died during operations at Aberdeen's Underwater Test Facility, dubbed "Super Pond." It is used to conduct shock testing of vessels, submarine systems and munitions.

Tuesday's incident occurred less than a month after George Lazzaro Jr., a 41-year-old engineering technician, died while performing maintenance at the same site.

Kelly Luster, a spokesman for the Aberdeen Proving Ground, said Tuesday's deaths are not believed to be connected to the earlier incident. But officials said Wednesday that the test facility has been closed for all diving operations until investigations into the recent deaths are done.

The test facility, dubbed the "Super Pond," is used to conduct shock testing of vessels, submarine systems and munitions. With a bottom measuring 300 feet in diameter and a maximum depth of 150 feet, the facility also has been used in testing torpedoes, missiles, warheads, amphibious and remotely controlled vehicles, underwater gun firing and acoustics.

The sailors belonged to a unit whose salvage operations have included TWA Flight 800, Swiss Air Flight 111, the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, and the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor.

The unit also provided damage assessments and repairs on the USS Cole and participated in humanitarian missions following Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti.

The incident is under investigation.

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