Coast Guard cutter captain temporarily relieved of duty after 2 divers die in Arctic Ocean

Wednesday, August 30th 2006, 10:13 pm

By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) -- The captain of a Coast Guard cutter was temporarily relieved of duty following the deaths of two crew members during a dive in the Arctic Ocean, officials said

Capt. Douglas G. Russell will be replaced by Capt. Daniel K. Oliver, a previous commanding officer of the Seattle-based cutter the Healy, as the investigation into the deaths continues, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

Russell had been in charge of the ship since June; before that, Oliver commanded the Healy for a two-year tour of duty.

The Coast Guard has released few details about the Aug. 17 dive 500 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.

Lt. Jessica Hill, 31, of St. Augustine, Fla., and Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Duque, 22, of Miami, died during a cold-water training dive, said Petty Officer 1st Class Russ Tippets, a Coast Guard spokesman in Alameda, Calif.

Initially, the Coast Guard reported that the two entered the water to examine the ship's rudder -- a common procedure as the ship operates in Arctic ice.

Tippets also said investigators were looking into whether the ship had been idled and pumps and propellers had been disengaged at the time of the accident, as standard procedure would have dictated.

In a statement on the ship's Web site dated Aug. 21, Russell said the deaths occurred during a short break in operations.

"The dive took place at the bow of the ship in a small area of open water," he wrote. "The dive operation was going pretty much as planned when something happened under the water" while Hill and Duque were there together.

The divers were brought to the ship, and revival efforts continued for more than an hour, he wrote.

The 420-foot Healy is primarily used for scientific research in the Arctic under sponsorship of the National Science Foundation. According to the ship's Web site, in the days before the accident crew members had been drilling holes through the ice and hanging seismometers down into the sea.

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