New captain tapped after diver deaths


Published: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
SEATTLE - The Coast Guard has appointed a new captain to command the cutter Healy following the deaths of two Florida crew members during a dive in the Arctic Ocean.
Capt. Douglas G. Russell was temporarily relieved of duty last month after the divers died 500 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.
Rear Adm. Clifford I. Pearson made the removal permanent on Friday, citing "a loss of confidence in Russell's continued ability to command." He named Capt. Tedric R. Lindstrom, chief of response with the 13th Coast Guard District in Seattle, the new commanding officer.
Russell has been reassigned to administrative duties.
The Coast Guard has released little information about the Aug. 17 deaths, and Russell's superiors have not said why they lost confidence in him.
Under standard protocol, the commanding officer is ultimately responsible for the safety of all divers.
Lt. Jessica Hill, 31, of St. Augustine, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Duque, 22, of Miami, died during a cold-water training dive.
At the time, the Healy, which can sail through ice up to 8 feet thick, was carrying a group of 35 scientists studying the Arctic sea floor.
Witnesses have said that shipmates had been taking a two-hour break on the ice - with some playing football and going for walks - shortly before Hill and Duque began their dive in a small patch of open water near the ship's bow.
The two were tethered to the surface by ropes, so that they would not become disoriented under the ice. A team monitoring them pulled them up when they noticed something was wrong.
The Coast Guard has started two investigations. One is focusing on finding the cause of the deaths in hopes of preventing such accidents in the future; the other is a broader administrative review that could lead to findings of blame.
Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Glynn Smith said Friday that no specific timeline has been set for the investigations, although they could take months.
Lindstrom has been with the Coast Guard since 1978. He has previously served as commanding officer of several Coast Guard ships and as a mathematics professor at the Coast Guard Academy.

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