Autopsy awaited in death of petty officer
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Authorities still are investigating the Oct. 13 death of Petty Officer 1st Class Herbert Andrew Craft.
Craft, 32, an operations specialist and a rescue swimmer on the USS Cowpens, was medically evacuated to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka during a routine swimming exercise on Oct. 12. He was pronounced dead at the Yokohama City University Medical Research Center the next morning.
His body was flown to U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, where an autopsy will determine the cause of death, officials said. This is the nearest U.S. hospital that performs autopsies.
“There is no expected date of autopsy results,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Bernard, Carrier Strike Group 5 spokesman. “An expectation might pressure or unduly influence those performing the autopsy.”
Craft was participating in a search-and-rescue exercise and had entered the water from the ship’s rescue boat. According to reports, he became “disoriented” and was “immediately retrieved from the water.” The rescue boat then evacuated Craft to the hospital, Bernard said.
“While it would obviously be inappropriate to speculate on whether or not the exercise had anything to do with the death, I can say this — the job of rescue swimmer is a volunteer duty and absolutely no one — even the commanding officer — can order a swimmer into the water if he or she doesn’t want to go,” Bernard said.
This search-and-rescue exercise has been performed hundreds of times throughout the Navy as a well-established procedure, he added.
Craft transferred to the USS Cowpens from the USS Fort McHenry in December 2004. An Oct. 23 obituary in the Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner listed his birthplace as Tallahassee, Fla.