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NEWS | May 25, 2018

Shipyard diver earns medal for heroism

By PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

A Navy diver assigned to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility’s Everett, Wash., detachment received the highest non-combat decoration awarded for heroism April 27 for his rescue of a drowning swimmer.


Captain Howard Markle, PSNS & IMF presented the Navy and Marine Corps Medal to Navy Diver Chief Petty Officer Steven McConnell during an all hands call at the detachment’s headquarters at Naval Station Everett.


According to the award citation, on July 1, 2017, McConnell was on a camping trip in North Cascades National Park when he witnessed two kayakers capsized in the frigid rapids of Lake Diablo. One kayaker reached shore safely, but the other became caught in an eddy and was overcome by the current. McConnell quickly descended a 20-foot embankment into the 43-degree water, directing his wife to call 911. He then swam 80 feet to the kayaker and dove underwater to recover the victim, who was unconscious on the bottom of the lake. McConnell secured the victim and swam through dangerous current back to shore, where he rendered first aid until the kayaker regained consciousness and emergency medical services arrived.


“It is indeed a great privilege and honor to present such a prestigious award,” said Markle. “It is truly humbling to recognize someone willing to lay his life on the line without hesitation to save another—the complete embodiment of honor, courage and commitment.”


Navy divers are expert swimmers and receive extensive training in many specialized diving scenarios, from basic first aid to deadly arterial gas embolisms. The kayaker McConnell rescued, who asked not to be named, acknowledged his good fortune. 


“Prior to the accident I saw McConnell was wearing a U. S. Navy Deep Sea Diver sweatshirt,” said the rescued kayaker, who asked not to be named. “After gaining consciousness, Steve was the very first person I saw. I knew I was in great hands because I knew he was comfortable and trained in the water.”


According to bystanders who witnessed the incident, the victim was two feet under water when McConnell intercepted and retrieved him. Had he hesitated for even a second, McConnell might have been unable to locate him.


At the Everett dive locker, his teammates were not surprised by McConnell’s actions that day.

“McConnell is a big teddy bear,” said Navy Diver Chief Petty Officer G. Gray Ladd, PSNS & IMF Detachment Everett leading chief petty officer. “He likes to be on the dive side, with the group—making the day good for everyone and wanting people to feel happy about what they do. He is just a great guy, deserving of this recognition.”


“We don’t just fix ships; we save lives,” said Cmdr. Ginalyn Harrell, Northwest Regional Maintenance Center deputy commander, who attended the ceremony. “It’s good for people to see that it’s not just the job; it’s everything.”