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Accidental Deaths Prompt New Navy Safety Rules

On April 24th, two Navy SEALs, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Brett Allen Marihugh and 1st Class Seth Cody Lewis were found at the bottom of a combat training pool after attempting a breath-holding exercise. Both men perished. Marihugh and Lewis were conducting an off-hours workout at the pool by themselves.

A Navy investigation ruled out misconduct by the SEALs and said breath-holding should only take place in a controlled setting under the supervision of trainers. Breath-holding drills are usually used to condition a swimmer to build confidence when going through high-surf conditions at night, said Brandon Webb, a former Navy SEAL.

Witnesses interviewed during the investigation said they had seen Marihugh and Lewis working out at the combat training pool on the afternoon of April 24.

The men were found when three trainees returned to the deck to collect trash and noticed them at the bottom of the pool. The men were not moving, and they had 10-pound diving bricks next to their torsos.

When they found the two men unresponsive the trainees dove in to pull the unconscious men from the water. They performed CPR until paramedics arrived. Marihugh and Lewis were pronounced dead at local hospitals a short time later.

The Detroit News found that the drownings resulted from a shallow-water blackout. This occurs when, due to a severe lack of oxygen to the brain, a swimmer loses consciousness underwater.

There is currently a “two-man rule” in place in the Navy. This rule was created to reduce a swimmer’s risk of drowning by having partners monitoring each other's activities. In the case of Marihugh and Lewis, a swim buddy was not helpful as both individuals were participating at once.

Rear Admiral B.L. Losey, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command wrote a letter August 14 letter which accompanied the investigation. In that letter, Losey said that lifeguards or first-class swimmers are now required on deck for all conditioning swims other than laps. Signs are to be posted in pool facilities prohibiting breath-holding as well.

Losey has also ordered a review of all breath-holding trainings in order to gauge their compliance with safety standards and for inspections to be done at pool facilities to ensure the proper posting of emergency-response plans and equipment.

The task now is to improve safety guidance and raise awareness that both swim buddies can be at risk for shallow-water blackout when participating in breath-holding exercises, according to Losey.

Related: Recent Tragedies Put New Focus on Shallow Water Blackout

“Corrective safety measures were immediately put in place to prevent this type of incident from happening again,” Lt. j.g. Jacqueline Maxwell, spokeswoman for the Naval Special Warfare Group TWO, said in a statement.

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