Israel Navy commander Adm. Eliezer Marom has convened a panel to investigate how a soldier in the advanced stages of training as a naval commando drowned early yesterday in a routine three-meter training dive at Ashdod Port. Sgt. Gal Azoulay, 19, of Zichron Yaakov, was diving at the time with the rest of his team members after having finished sixteen months of training for the elite Shayetet 13 unit. The exercise was designed to simulate combat diving in an enemy port.
The exercise was performed in pairs and was supposed to last about two and a half hours. After about an hour and a half, Azoulay took the role of lead diver of a pair. When his partner realized that he was not responding to routine contact that the two were to maintain about every minute, he followed emergency procedures involving bringing his partner to the surface of the water and fired a flare gun to mark their location.
Within a short time, a boat arrived and began to administer medical treatment to Azoulay, who was unconscious. Resuscitation efforts continued in the ambulance on shore for some 40 minutes.
En route, a physician joined the team and treated Azoulay. The diver was pronounced dead before arriving at the hospital.
A senior navy source said the dive was a part of a series of routine training exercises and that initial findings indicated that there was nothing out of the ordinary in the exercises being performed at the time of the incident.
Commanders and medics were present as required and the divers were not exposed to unusual cold. There was also no indication during the training that Azoulay had any health problems.
The investigative panel appointed by Marom will attempt to determine the cause of Azoulay’s death, and will consider the possibility of a technical problem with his diving equipment, a health problem that had gone undiagnosed or human error. The investigation will also look into whether Azoulay’s training partner acted appropriately.
Marom has ordered a temporary halt to all diving training in the navy until Azoulay’s equipment is inspected.
Members of the unit undergo thorough medical testing before their enlistment as well as in the course of their training.
Before each exercise, they are questioned about the state of their health and before strenuous training, they undergo examination by a doctor.
Azoulay’s death was the first fatal training accident in the unit since 1995. Azoulay’s funeral will take place today in Zichron Yaakov. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant.