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Report: Sailor drowning could have been avoided with life vest

Oct. 10, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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A 21-year-old sailor who fell from the deck of a submarine and drowned last year was working in an area that required the wear of life jackets, a Navy investigation said — a rule that may have saved his life.

Sonar Technician (Submarine) Seaman Rolando Acosta died July 6 after he slipped and fell into the water while standing watch aboard the attack submarine Boise at Naval Station Norfolk, Va.

According to the command investigation into the incident, Acosta walked outside the nonskid surface of the sub, where policy dictates he should have been wearing a flotation device.

Since the incident, crew members aboard Boise have been retrained in on-deck safety. As an additional safety measures all sailors on topside watch must now wear lifejackets, whether they are on the nonskid or not.

Additionally, the report recommends emergency response teams at Norfolk be equipped with their own dive teams, which could have sped up the response to Acosta’s accident.

Acosta, who blew a 0.000 on a breathalyzer test when he reported for duty that morning, went into the water around 10:45 a.m. A fellow crew member witnessed the fall and immediately announced “man overboard.”

Another crew member grabbed a life ring and rushed to the scene, but when he peered overboard, only Acosta’s uniform cover was visible above water. There were no air bubbles or signs of a struggle, the investigation said.

Rescue divers recovered Acosta’s M16 rifle more than an hour later, but did not discover his body until after 2 p.m., approximately 40 feet under water. An autopsy determined Acosta did not suffer an internal or external injuries that could have contributed to his drowning.

The report cites a Submarine Force Atlantic regulation that defines working “over the side” — outside the nonskid deck, per Boise regulations — as outside the safety lines, requiring personnel to wear a life jacket and harness with safety lanyard.

The report found that Acosta had attended crew training on these rules. One crew member told Navy investigators that crew members regularly worked outside the safety cable area. However, the overall report contradicted that statement.

“USS Boise investigated crew safety practices and discovered that the vast majority of watchstanders are familiar with the limits of safe roving topside,” it said.

No disciplinary, administrative or nonpunitive actions were recommended. However, the investigation did note the Boise did not have complete safety lines installed at the time because of an equipment shortage.

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