According to a story reported jointly on May 10, 2016, by NBC News and The Virginian-Pilot newspaper (the latter is based in the Hampton Roads area of eastern Virginia, the home base of the Navy’s East Coast SEAL teams), a Navy SEAL trainee died during the training evolution known as “drown-proofing” during First Phase of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training last Friday, May 6, 2016.
The trainee, Seaman James D. Lovelace, age 21, reportedly had unspecified difficulties in the pool while wearing full camouflage fatigues and a mask. The NBC News and Virginian-Pilot report went on to say than an unnamed official familiar with the matter described Lovelace as participating in the last day of the first week of BUD/S, in which he was taking part in a “swimming exercise commonly known as ‘drown-proofing.'” Lovelace was noted as having some sort of “difficulty,” and was then taken to the side of the pool, where he became unconscious. Resuscitation efforts and first aid at the scene were unsuccessful, and Lovelace was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
This description is not necessarily consistent with the drown-proofing evolution known to this author when he went through BUD/S training, but it is possible that the evolution has changed since that time. BUD/S trainees did not customarily wear full uniforms during the evolution in the BUD/S classes of the past. Historically, drown-proofing has been undertaken in UDT (swim) shorts, with trainees’ hands and feet tied up, and no mask. The trainees are in the water, tied up, and have to accomplish a series of tasks that take around 10 minutes.
Trainees perform these various tasks in the water, including a dolphin swim, and the evolution culminates in a series of bobs to the bottom of the pool, and back up to the top, during which the trainee does an underwater somersault with a mask in his mouth.
If Seaman Lovelace was in full camouflage fatigues, it seems more likely that he was undertaking some sort of water-treading evolution, or a full-uniform swim. Both are customary during First Phase of BUD/S. None of these suppositions can be confirmed, however, as no further details are currently available.
According to the NBC News and Virginian-Pilot report, the death was not reported until the Navy—presumably, the San Diego, California-based SEAL training command, the Naval Special Warfare Center (NSWC), which runs BUD/S—was contacted by the two news organizations and asked about the death. According to a Navy spokesperson, the death is now under investigation.
This is not the first time a trainee has died during BUD/S training, as previous fatalities have also occurred in the training pool, during swimming and water-treading evolutions, and at the conclusion of an open-water swim—due to hypothermia, in one case. The training can at times be highly dangerous, and is monitored extremely closely by safety officers and medical personnel. Rarely are BUD/S trainees out of the sight of instructors and medically trained officials.