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Scuba diver dies during class at Army base

Members of the 62nd Civil Engineer Squadron, pack up after installing the new Joint Base Lewis-McChord sign at the entrance of the base Sunday. (Abner Guzman/U.S. Air Force)

A scuba diver was found dead after he didn’t resurface Saturday during a class in American Lake on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The student diver, a veteran, was participating in a class for civilians, according to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, whose dive team recovered the body.

Other agencies initially responded. The original 911 call went to Joint Base Lewis-McChord Fire & Emergency Services, who called West Pierce Fire & Rescue at 11:30 a.m., reporting the missing diver, said Jenny Weekes, a spokesperson for West Pierce. Her agency operates boats on the lake staffed with rescue divers and swimmers. The JBLM emergency services department remained in command, she said.

At 12:18 p.m., about an hour after the student’s oxygen would have ran out, West Pierce called the Pierce County Metro Dive Team, which has multiple divers and advanced equipment, said Sgt. Darren Moss Jr., spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department.

Using sonar, the dive team located the body at 4:30 p.m.

It is unclear who operated the dive class. The Northwest Adventure Center, a base-run outdoor activities operator, was holding an open water scuba diver certification on Saturday, but the class website said the dive would have been elsewhere. Sheriff’s rescuers were called to Russell Landing, on the west side of the lake, but the class website said the dive would have been at Sunnyside Beach in Steilacoom.

JBLM Scuba, a shop at the Northwest Adventure Center, is a “5-Star Dive Center” approved by PADI, an industry association. It’s one of the only such centers in the military, according to the center’s website. Numbers listed for the center and dive shop did not pick up Sunday.

“Safety is a top priority, and divers with medical problems, such as high blood pressure, must have their doctor’s approval and be medically cleared,” the site says.

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division is conducting an investigation; the agency did not respond to an email Sunday.

In February, the Pierce County Metro Dive Team was also called to American Lake to recover the body of a missing boater, at a depth of 77 feet underwater.

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