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Admiral Ends Career Marred By Death Of Recruit

October 31, 1988 GMT

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ The vice admiral in charge of all training for the Navy at the time a recruit drowned during a lifesaving class is retiring Tuesday after a career of more than 34 years.

Vice Adm. N.R. Thunman will turn over the Naval Education and Training Command to Vice Adm. John S. Disher.

Thunman, 56, supervised 42,500 military and civilian personnel instructing more than 80,000 officers and enlisted personnel at any given time in everything from flight training to lifesaving.

Earlier this year he ordered a review of all Navy training that involved risk after Airman Recruit Lee Mirecki, 19, of Appleton, Wis., drowned March 2 in a training pool at the Rescue Swimmer School at Pensacola.

Mirecki’s relatives, the news media and congressmen had questioned the Navy’s refusal to disclose details of the death until more than a month later. Five rescue-swimmer instructors were charged with physically forcing Mirecki to continue a lifesaving drill after he had panicked, climbed out of the pool and asked to quit.

″I didn’t think that I personally was under seige, but I felt that the Navy was under seige,″ Thunman told the Pensacola News Journal in an interview published Sunday.

Thunman repeatedly denied the Navy was trying to hide anything and insisted the death was under investigation from the beginning.

The rescue school’s curriculum has been changed to prohibit instructors from touching students and to have them immediately halt training for students who panic, ask to quit or show excessive fatigue.

Also, the Navy banned the ″sharks and daisies″ drill that was going on when Mirecki died. Instructors acting as panicked drowning victims would grab students in headholds. Students were supposed to extricate themselves by pulling the instructors under water.

Four of the instructors were given administrative punishments of fines or rank reductions. One instructor was court-martialed, convicted of negligent homicide, sentenced to 90 days in the brig and reduced in rank one grade.

The school’s officer in charge also was court-martialed but acquitted on a dereliction-of-duty charge. Another officer, the naval aviation schools commander, was given a letter of reprimand just before he retired.

Thunman said safety has improved elsewhere in his command. There has not been a single flight training fatality in two years, unprecedented in naval aviation history, he said.

He plans to look for a civilian job in education, nuclear power or submarine warfare programs in Washington, D.C.