Diver’s death in Md. Army pond called accidental

HAGERSTOWN — An Army scuba diver’s death last January at an Aberdeen Proving Ground test pond near Baltimore was an accident apparently linked to his rapid ascent after he started losing air, according to a spokeswoman and a report released Friday.

Civilian Army employee George Lazzaro, 41, of Nottingham, died with air bubbles in his lungs, heart, brain and veins, according to the report from the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala. The condition can occur when a diver holds his breath while surfacing quickly.

A member of his dive team told investigators, “every diver knows in an emergency ascend, you should exhale, exhale, this is a basic diving technique.”

Lazzaro, an experienced diver, died while leading a four-member team Jan. 30 to retrieve equipment from 127 feet in the so-called Super Pond, which is used for testing explosives.

Other team members told investigators that as they returned to the surface, they heard one member say, “I’m losing air.” Then they saw bubbles, followed by Lazzaro’s appearance on the surface. They said he removed his mask and then sank again.

It’s not clear from the 135-page report why Lazzaro lost air. The report’s findings and recommendations are redacted under an exception to the Freedom of Information Act that includes national defense information and the internal personnel rules and practices of federal agencies.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found in August that nearly a dozen safety standards were violated at the pond. They included improper training for divers; inadequate supervision during dives; allowing dives to be performed without a standby diver; and using breathing air for purposes other than breathing.

C. Eloise Lundgren, a spokeswoman for the Army Test and Evaluation Command, which operates the pond, said procedures at the pond have been adjusted based on the OSHA and Safety Center reports.

Lundgren said a separate investigation by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division concluded Lazzaro’s death was an accident.

She said Lazzaro’s death was unrelated to the drownings four weeks later of Navy divers James Reyher and Ryan Harris during a routine dive at the pond. Four sailors face court-martial in Norfolk, Va., for alleged dereliction of duty in their deaths. A fifth accepted non-judicial punishment.

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.