USS George Washington: Navy launches investigation after 4 carrier suicide deaths

The inquest will also look into any connections or connections between the deaths, which come after three of the sailors died by apparent suicide a week earlier this month.

The USS George Washington is in port at Newport News, Va., undergoing refueling and overhaul. In the past 12 months, there have been seven crew fatalities.

The four most recent deaths, including three this month, were confirmed or apparent suicides, Captain Sarah Self-Kyler, a spokesperson for the US Fleet Forces Command, told CNN.

Two of the May and October 2021 deaths were determined not to be by suicide. Another sailor’s cause of death in July was undetermined, Self-Kyler said.

CNN previously reported that the Navy was investigating the deaths of three sailors from the aircraft carrier. Two sailors were found dead off base on April 9 and 10. A third sailor was found unconscious aboard the ship on April 15 and died in hospital. The Navy determined all three deaths were apparent suicides, though a final cause remains under investigation, Self-Kyler said.

Investigators have confirmed that a death last December was a suicide.

The Navy identified the most recent fatality as rookie Coxswain Xavier Hunter Mitchell Sandor. The Navy identified the sailor found dead April 9 as Retail Services Specialist 3rd Class Mikail Sharp and the sailor found dead April 10 as Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Natasha Huffman.

There were also three other deaths from the ship in late 2019 and 2020. Two of those deaths are still under investigation, Self-Kyler said, but the other death in December 2020 is also an apparent suicide.

Although based on the West Coast, the USS George Washington has been at the Newport News Naval Shipyard since 2017 going through her Complex Refueling and Overhaul (RCOH), a process performed midway through a carrier’s life that replenishes its nuclear fuel and upgrades its systems. The process was supposed to take two years, but it has been repeatedly delayed by the pandemic and other setbacks.

As of April 1, there have been 15 suicides this year among serving Navy members. The three in a week earlier this month bring the total to 18 suicides.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has made the issue of military suicides a priority. Last month, Austin created the Independent Review Panel on Suicide Prevention and Response, which will review the Department of Defense’s efforts to deal with troop suicides.

The committee is expected to begin its work in May and begin visiting military bases and installations later this summer. An initial report with a preliminary set of recommendations is due early next year.

“One death by suicide is one too many,” Austin wrote in the memo announcing the Independent Review Panel. “And the suicide rates among our Service members are still too high.”

“We certainly want to look at things like the command climate, the culture, the mission and the tempo, the pace at which we push people. All of those things are stressors in life. Some of them could contribute to the problem with suicides. But again, it’s a very individual thing,” Kirby said during a press briefing on Thursday.

“Each death is tragic in itself, no matter how. And we, our thoughts and our prayers continue to go out to the families, and frankly to the shipmates.”

In 2020, 580 soldiers committed suicide, according to the Ministry of Defense. The suicide rate has increased in all branches of the military over the previous five years.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone close to you has considered suicide, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK at 741741.


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