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Army Reports Progress Probing Aberdeen Pond Death

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(Credit: Aberdeen Proving Ground)

(Credit: Aberdeen Proving Ground)

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — An Army safety agency said Wednesday it has finished its field investigation into the Jan. 30 death of a civilian who was doing underwater maintenance of a weapons-testing pond at Aberdeen Proving Ground near Baltimore.

The command at Aberdeen will get an update on the results before the official report on the death of engineering technician George Lazzaro Jr. is finalized and made publicly available, according to Michael Negard, spokesman for the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.

Negard disclosed the development in an emailed response to questions from The Associated Press.

The completion of information-gathering at the site marks the military’s first public acknowledgement of progress on any of several investigations stemming from the deaths of Lazzaro’s death and two Navy divers who perished during routine underwater diving operations at the so-called Super Pond on Feb. 26.

Military officials said the pond remains closed to all activity and visitors pending the outcome of all the investigations, which could take months.

Officially called the Underwater Explosion Test Facility, the Super Pond is a teardrop-shaped trench, 150 feet deep, on the eastern bank of the Bush River near the top of the Chesapeake Bay. It is used to test submarines, other vessels and underwater weapons systems, and for shock-test research by academia and private industry.

The deaths were the first fatalities or serious injuries at the pond since it opened in 1995, according to the Army’s Test and Evaluation Command, which runs the facility.

No dive operations were conducted at the pond between Lazzaro’s death and those of Navy Diver 1st Class James Reyher of Caldwell, Ohio, and Navy Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris of Gladstone, Mo., said command spokeswoman Robin Boggs.
Lazzaro, 41, of Nottingham, was a civilian command employee doing routine maintenance work when he died, Boggs said.

His death is also the subject of separate investigations by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins said her agency has up to six months to complete its work. Army CID “will investigate until we are completely satisfied that we have gotten to the truth and done everything in our power to determine what transpired,” spokesman Christopher Grey wrote in an email.

The Navy diver deaths are being investigated separately by their Virginia Beach, Va.-based unit and by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. NCIS investigations generally take six months to a year, spokesman Ed Buice said. A spokesman for the Navy diver unit declined to offer any timeline for its investigation.

The pond was built from 1992 to 1995 at a cost of $38 million, Boggs said. It was designed as a more environmentally sound alternative for tests the Navy previously conducted in open water such as the Chesapeake Bay and waters near Key West, Fla., she said.

It is 1,070 feet long and 920 feet wide with sloping sides and a flat bottom 300 feet in diameter. Its shock-testing chamber can withstand a maximum charge equal to 4,100 pounds of TNT, according to the command’s website.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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