A Navy SEAL instructor has been temporarily removed from his training duties following the death of a sailor in a swimming pool, a service spokesman said Saturday.
The instructor was removed this week following the May 6 death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace, 21, of Crestview, Fla., said Navy Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command. The incident occurred during the famously grueling Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in California.
Lovelace was helped to the edge of a swimming pool by instructors after having difficulty in the water, and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital after efforts to revive him failed, Navy officials said. A preliminary autopsy report by the San Diego coroner’s office said he drowned.
The incident is under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Salata said Naval Special Warfare, commanded by Rear Adm. Brian Losey, “is fully cooperating with the NCIS investigation” and a separate Navy safety investigation into the fatality.
“It would be premature to discuss any details until those investigations are complete,” Salata said. “As the investigation progresses and more details are reviewed, his commander will reassess his status.”
The instructor is an enlisted petty officer first class who joined the Navy in 2008 and has served in SEAL units based in both Coronado and Little Creek, Va. He has deployed to Afghanistan at least twice, and been decorated with a Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal with “V” device for valor. He is not currently facing any accusations from commanders of wrongdoing, and his name was not released.
Lovelace’s death marks the third in recent months by a sailor either in BUD/S, or recently separated from it. The others include Seaman Daniel DelBianco, 23, who committed suicide by jumping from the 22nd story of a building in downtown San Diego after washing out of SEAL training, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Caplen “Cap” Weare, 24, who rolled over his pickup truck in San Diego in November following a night of drinking after falling out of SEAL training three days earlier, according to family members and authorities.
Lovelace had been in SEAL training for about a week. The first phase of the program focuses on building physical conditioning, increasing water proficiency and honing mental tenacity, according to the Navy. Students are allowed to quit upon request, a practice known as a Drop on Request (DOR) or “ringing the bell.”
Military officials defended the safety of their training program after Lovelace’s death.
“Despite a successful track record, any loss of life drives us to ensure we are doing everything possible to make training safe and effective,” said Navy Capt. Jay Hennessey, commanding officer of the Naval Special Warfare Center, in a statement. “Our safety precautions for those who dropped from training have been effective for 50 years.”
Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed to this report.