Investigation launched after seven sailors who served on U.S.S. George Washington dead in two years

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Seven sailors who served on the USS George Washington have died in the past two years. The latest three occurred between April 9th and April 15th and were all suicides.

“The most recent, Master-at-Arms Seaman Recruit Xavier Hunter Mitchell-Sandor, was found aboard the carrier on April 15 and was pronounced dead later that day in a local hospital. … A Navy official told USNI News that the death was an apparent suicide,” according to the U.S. Naval Institute’s news service, USNI News.

Meanwhile, “[r]etail Services Specialist 3rd Class Mika’il Sharp died on April 9 and Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Natasha Huffman died on April 10. Both deaths were suicides, according to information from the local medical examiner provided to USNI News.”

Prior to these three suicides, an unnamed sailor who’d served on U.S.S. George Washington committed suicide in December.

The three remaining deaths occurred last year and reportedly weren’t necessarily from suicide.

“A Navy official [said] of the three other sailors assigned to the ship who died: one death was undetermined, one was ‘health-related’ and one was from, ‘post-COVID complications,'” according to USNI News.

This brings the total to seven deaths.

“We can confirm seven total deaths of service members assigned to USS George Washington over the past 12 months — 4 in 2021, and 3 in 2022. The circumstances surrounding these incidents vary and it is premature to make assumptions, as some incidents remain under investigation,” Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Robert Myers reportedly said in a statement.

An investigation has since been launched.

“Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, has directed Rear Adm. John Meier, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, to investigate and assess the reported deaths of sailors assigned to the USS George Washington,” U.S. Fleet Forces Command Capt. Sarah Self-Kyler told The Hill in a statement this past Monday.

“The investigation will include correlations, command climate and culture issues, and the systemic relationships between them. Caudle also asked his staff to work with Naval Air Force Atlantic, the ship, and other Navy stakeholders to ‘better understand and assess the efficacy of the existing Total Sailor Fitness programs,'” according to The Hill.

This news comes less than three years since another spate of suicides rocked the Navy three years ago.

“Three sailors assigned to a single aircraft carrier died by suicide in just one week, the U.S. Navy told NBC News on Wednesday. All three deaths occurred off-base of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier and happened in separate instances, according to a Navy spokeswoman,” as reported by NBC News on Sept. 25th, 2019.

“Their deaths bring the total number of suicides of sailors assigned to the carrier in the past two years to five, including one as recently as July of this year. A special psychiatric rapid intervention team, or SPRINT, is on board to counsel the shipmates of those who died, Cragg said.”

It’s not entirely clear what’s at the root of these suicides, though a recent report by NBC News notes that the working conditions aboard U.S. aircraft carriers can be brutal:

As an example, NBC News points to the case of Hannah Crisostomo, an aviation boatswain’s mate handler on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington who tried but — thankfully — failed to commit suicide:

“As her one-year anniversary with the Navy approached last May, Hannah Crisostomo swallowed 196 pain relievers. Her organs shut down. Her brain swelled during multiple seizures and she stopped breathing,” according to NBC News.

“She was on life support for eight days, during which time doctors had warned her family that she may never regain normal brain functions. When Crisostomo woke up, she immediately wondered why she was still alive. Her thoughts grew more despairing during the next few weeks in the hospital and then in the Navy’s psychiatric ward.”

Crisostomo and several other George Washington sailors reportedly described an onboard culture “where seeking help is not met with the necessary resources, as well as nearly uninhabitable living conditions aboard the ship, including constant construction noise that made sleeping impossible and a lack of hot water and electricity.”

“If they keep me in the Navy, and they put me back in the same situation, I’m going to kill myself, and I’m going to be successful the next time,” Crisostomo recalled thinking after her suicide attempt.

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