Navy SEAL dies in Top Gun training

The Navy announced Thursday that a six-man Naval Special Warfare team was training in Georgia earlier this month when one of them was killed in a training accident.

Sgt. Del Barnett, 31, a member of the SEALs Battalion, was a rocket launcher system instructor at the Top Gun Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs course, known as the “Suicide Bridge,” Navy officials said. A total of 32 SS/BSD sailors from different geographic commands went to the Top Gun class in Georgia Aug. 9-13, Navy officials said. A Naval Special Warfare team was at the U.S. naval base at Kings Bay, Ga., the base on which the Top Gun class was held.

Sailors must pass several physical and mental tests before they become part of Top Gun, but the stringent physical, mental and character examinations are part of a safety awareness program designed to ensure standards are met and that individual Sailors do not feel “unchallenged, unchallenged or ignored in the process of achieving their goals,” according to a Marine Corps profile. The assessments are long, grueling, and rigorous.

Through a third-party safety inspector, Navy officials did not learn of the accident until the end of the Top Gun class, according to naval officials.

Navy officials did not confirm the accident until media reports started to surface Thursday.

“We are aware of the reports regarding SS/BSD at Kings Bay and are currently investigating,” said Lt. Karen DeVito, a spokeswoman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif. “This is still an active incident investigation; therefore, it would be inappropriate to comment on specifics at this time.”

An investigation may look into why Top Gun was not shut down while the cause of the accident is determined, the spokesman said.

Like other SEAL training programs, Top Gun has been marred by controversies and mishaps. There was the infamous death of the USS New Jersey’s 19-year-old operator on board the training ship, which crashed into a reef at midnight at sea in 2000.

It is not uncommon for an instructor to take his or her own life in the months leading up to graduation.

Navy SEAL corpsmen were killed training on the Top Gun course in North Carolina on Dec. 23, 1988. Two instructors took their own lives on the Top Gun course in Arizona in 1995. The Top Gun operator died in a World War II-era black aircraft that crashed during a test flight on Nov. 8, 1989, on the Top Gun course in Kings Bay.

— Stephanie Embree, Rosalind S. Helderman and Lila Thulin

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