Coast Guard investigating divers' deaths

Published August 31, 2006

SEATTLE - The captain of a Coast Guard cutter has been temporarily relieved of duty as the service investigates the deaths of two Florida crew members during a dive in the Arctic Ocean.

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

Russell had been in charge of the ship since June.

The Aug. 17 incident occurred 500 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.

Initially, the Coast Guard said Lt. Jessica Hill, 31, of St. Augustine, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Duque, 22, of Miami, died after they entered the water to examine the ship's rudder, a common procedure as the ship operates in Arctic ice. But Petty Officer 1st Class Russ Tippets, a Coast Guard spokesman in Alameda, Calif., said Wednesday they were taking a cold water training dive.

Tippets also said investigators are looking into whether pumps and propellers were disengaged during the dive, as standard procedure dictates.