Four charged with dereliction in U.S. Navy divers' deaths

(Reuters) - Four U.S. Navy sailors were charged with dereliction of duty on Wednesday in the death of two divers during a training exercise in Maryland earlier this year.

Petty Officer 1st Class James Reyher of Caldwell, Ohio, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Harris of Gladstone, Missouri, died on February 26, when they ran out of air while trying to locate a sunken helicopter in 150 feet of water at the Super Pond training site at Aberdeen Proving Grounds near Baltimore.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason Bennett, the command diving officer for a salvage and diving unit, was charged with failing to ensure that safety procedures were followed and with failing to tell the commanding officer of a request to deviate from the training scenario, according to blacked-out charge sheets provided by the Navy.

Senior Chief Navy Diver David Jones, Senior Chief Navy Diver James Burger and Chief Navy Diver Gary Ladd Jr also were accused of failure to follow safety procedures, the charge sheets showed.

The four were arraigned at the Naval Station at Norfolk, Virginia. The Navy has said a special court-martial, which imposes punishments less severe than a general court-martial, is expected to take place sometime in the fall.

Witnesses at a June hearing in the case said Reyher and Harris used conventional scuba gear instead of a Mark 16 breathing device, which would have allowed them more time to work.

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

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Gunna Dickson)