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Four sailors to be charged in U.S. Navy divers' deaths

(Reuters) - Four U.S. Navy sailors are set to face charges this week for their alleged role in the deaths of two divers who drowned during a training exercise in Maryland, the Navy said on Tuesday.

The names of the sailors and the charges against them will be made public during arraignments on Wednesday at the Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia, said spokesman Lieutenant Nathan Potter.

Petty Officer 1st Class James Reyher of Caldwell, Ohio, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Harris of Gladstone, Missouri, died on February 26 at the Super Pond training site at Aberdeen Proving Grounds near Baltimore. They were trying to locate a sunken helicopter in 150 feet of 41-degree Fahrenheit (5-degree Celsius) water.

Senior Chief Petty Officer James Burger, the master diver at the scene, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Smith, the officer in charge of the dive group, faced a June hearing to determine whether a general court-martial was warranted.

Commander Michael Runkle, leader of the unit, was relieved of his post after the incident.

The four unnamed sailors will face a special court-martial, which imposes punishments less severe than a general court-martial, sometime in the fall, Potter said.

Witnesses at the June hearing said the divers were never intended to make their dive in conventional scuba gear.

They should have used an underwater breathing apparatus called a Mark 16 that would have allowed them more time to work, the witnesses said.

Not enough devices were available, so the decision was taken to make the dive using scuba gear. Reyher and Harris went in but ran out of air, and attempts by other divers to aid them failed.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Prudence Crowther)

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