Investigation underway into fatal Navy training accident

SAN DIEGO - Federal investigators are looking into a man’s drowning death this week during a Navy training exercise.  

Coll Perske, 29, died Monday night during an exercise involving sea lions just off of Naval Base Coronado. Perske, an employee for the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), was under contract with the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program.

The incident is now under investigation by the Federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Investigators said trainers were involved in a swimmer interdiction exercise when Perske failed to surface at about 9:15 p.m. near the North boat launch in San Diego Bay. His coworkers brought him to the surface and attempted CPR. Paramedics arrived and tried advanced cardiac life support with no success.

He was transported to the UC San Diego Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be saltwater drowning.

OHSA investigators said it could take weeks to determine exactly what happened.

The Navy's Marine Mammal Program had its start at Point Mugu in Ventura County in 1959. Richard Holt was among the few who were asked to start it.  

"We started with dolphins, but by the time the program shifted to Hawaii, we were using sea lions, even killer whales," Holt said.

Shifting to San Diego, the pens for dolphins and sea lions had been kept at Naval Base Point Loma, but were recently moved to accommodate work scheduled to take place on a nearby pier.

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