Instead of Saving Himself, Diver Dies by Friend's Side

Ryan Harris to receive posthumous medal for brave act

By Shelley Hazen,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 5, 2014 1:46 PM CDT

(Newser) – Two Navy divers "resisted the natural instincts of self-preservation" and asphyxiated together, trapped at the bottom of a pond in Maryland during training exercises last year—and one of them sacrificed his own life in an effort to save the other. James Reyher, 28, was trapped and Ryan Harris, 23, connected to him by a line that could have been easily cut. Instead, "Harris exhausted himself in an attempt to save Reyher," says an investigator who studied the incident at Aberdeen Proving Ground; the investigation was just released to the Virginian-Pilot. A series of problems doomed the pre-deployment training exercise, starting with an equipment failure forcing the plan for the day to be changed. The men’s superiors provided only one air canister per diver, which ran out faster than anticipated; when they attempted an ascent, Reyher’s breathing apparatus stopped working. Then he somehow became entangled.

Two rescue dives were attempted but failed, and when Harris and Reyher were pulled up 31 minutes after they went underwater, they were dead. The Washington Post gives a roundup of the consequences for the men’s superiors, citing previous stories from the Virginian-Pilot and Navy Times: Five people were disciplined, including four charged with dereliction of duty; the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2’s commanding officer was fired; and a senior Navy diver was demoted. "To my dying day, I will not understand not putting safeguards in place," Harris' mother Deborah said in January. He will posthumously receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. (Click to read about another military hero in the news recently.)

The Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md.
The Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md.   (AP Photo/U.S. Army, Anonymous)
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