Documents show SEALs likely drowned as a result of violating policy

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Safety changes are coming to Naval Special Warfare Combat Swimmer Training Facilities as a result of an investigation into the accidental drownings of two Navy SEALs in April.

Petty Officer First Class Brett Marihugh and Petty Officer First Class Seth Lewis died from an accidental drowning that happened at a pool on JEB Little Creek-Fort Story on April 26th. Their drownings were determined to be in the line of duty.

As a result of their deaths, NSW is supposed to update safety signs and inspect pool facilities for proper life saving equipment by Dec. 15.

The investigation found Marihugh and Lewis were training on their own. They were not taking part in any team activities. They used two lanes of the pool, while the rest of the pool was used by trainees participating in scheduled, supervised, pool training.

The investigation found Lewis and Marihugh were doing “calisthenics (push-ups, sandbag lunges, planks, etc.) on the east side of the pool deck near the mats and pull-up bars,” around 2:20 p.m. a pool staff manager walked in and “observed a sandbag on the side of the pool that is not part of the normal training equipment,” the employee then “reminded SOl Marihugh and SOl Lewis, “Don’t do any breath holding, boys.”

Admiral Bill Losey, who signed off on the investigation and is the commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare, wrote the “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…because they knowingly disregarded breath-holding safety guidance.”

Breath holding, per the investigation, is against policy. Marihugh and Lewis were aware of that policy.

Witnesses report seeing Marihugh and Lewis “duck” walking under water. That is, they were squatting down, and walking along the bottom of the pool. They were also observed “swimming underwater while pushing a brick.” Other witness accounts say the two were at another instance, “holding the eastern wall of the pool, facing a clock that was on the pool deck wall while they held their breath.”

Shortly thereafter, around 2:40 p.m., the other trainees left the pool. Marihugh and Lewis were then alone in the pool. There are no specific eye-witness accounts as to what happened next, and though the pool has cameras, investigators found the actions were not on tape.

The investigation went on to say that “Although the most likely scenario is that SOl Lewis drowned as a result of breath-holding, there is no video recording or eye-witness testimony as to SOl Lewis’ actions at the time of his death. Therefore, it is impossible to determine by clear and convincing evidence that SOl Lewis was breath-holding at the time of his death.”

At approximately 3 p.m. two of the trainees told investigators they went back to the pool area to clean up the pool deck. At first they did not see any evidence of Marihugh or Lewis in the pool. But moments later, as one witness recalls “I believe we all had an intuition to look in the pool. Which is when we saw them at the bottom between in lanes 6-7. Seth appeared to be looking at his watch so we waited maybe I0-15 seconds while we were splashing the surface and knocking on the pool wall trying to get their attention and then knew something was wrong so I myself…and kicked off our shoes and jumped in to get them, helped pull out Brett, I yelled out for someone to call 911 as I surfaced with Seth and fought to get him out of the water until [redacted] came over and helped me pull him out.”

The investigation determined that a pool brick was lying next to their torsos. Pool bricks are typically weighted rectangular pool training equipment, roughly the size of a normal brick.

Another, unidentified, commander, wrote that though the two SEALs violated the verbal direction of the pool manager, and violated SEAL policy and that “such conduct is careless and inappropriate” he stated “ordinary negligence, or carelessness, standing alone, does not constitute misconduct.” and that their actions do not rise to a level that would disqualify their deaths from being classified as “in the line of duty.”

It is also worth mentioning that this commander wrote their deaths appear to have resulted from the desire to become better operators,and though they violated policy, they did so in an effort to be come a better combat swimmer, and that their dedication and commitment is honorable, noteworthy, and should not be forgotten.

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