Ft. Bragg, NC Soldiers Drown In Lake, Sep 1953


Ft Bragg, N. C. (AP) -- The Ft. Bragg Public Information Office reported that 18 soldiers drowned Wednesday in an accident during a training program.
The PIO said two other soldiers were "not accounted for" and four others were hospitalized.
Details of the accident were lacking, but authorities said it occurred during a "routine training problem" by members of the 406th Engineers Brigade at Smith's Lake on this big Army reservation.
The men were building a pontoon bridge across a lake at the time of the accident, the PIO said.
The accident occurred about 10:15 a.m. and all the bodies had been recovered three hours later. Medical officers were rushed to the scene and gave artificial respiration in a vain effort to revive the men.
The four who were hospitalized were brought to the post hospital in helicopters.
Names of the dead will not be released until next-of-kin have been notified the PIO said.
A board was appointed to investigate the cause of the accident. Complete details of the accident were being withheld pending the board's investigation.

The Daily Chronicle Centralia Washington 1953-09-02



Ft. Bragg, N. C. (AP) -- The Army indicated Thursday that panic caused the drowning of 20 soldiers in a lake on the Ft. Bragg Reservation Wednesday.
In an informal report, staff officers said the accident occurred when a military craft, carrying 40 soldiers, capsized. They denied that the boat was overloaded.
The victims, members of Co. A. 891st Engineer Construction Battalion, a unit of the 406th Engineer Brigade, were engaged in river crossing training.
"The men were being given an orientation ride by an engineer pontoon boat which consists of two engineer assault boats ...." the report said. "There were 40 men on the trip ... There only equipment was a cartridge belt and canteen."
"They were not wearing life preservers and it's not normal for this type of training. The boat had proceeded up the lake and turned back, hitting the wave caused by its passage up the lake and (the boat) shipped water over the bow. This caused some of the men to move back, apparently in panic which caused the boat to capsize."
"Several other boats were immediately sent to the scene and succeeded in rescuing several men. The men who had been assisted to the overturned boat failed to use it for support, probably due to panic."
"All men in the boat were seated up to the time of the accident and there was no horseplay ..."
The report said Lt. VALE G. BRUNER was in charge of the training "and he was observing and enforcing all normal safety precautions ... "

The Daily Chronicle Centralia Washington 1953-09-03


Further Clarification

The craft that sank was a floating barge-like section used as support for the bridge, it had been equipped with an outboard engine, used for maneuverability during construction. The boat trip was intended as a cooling-off 'reward' ride up the lake and back, for completing the project during a hot summer day.
The vessel never completed the turning maneuver to return back to it's starting point
The second article was more correct, by stating the total correct number of fatalities. The remaining two of the 20 total victims were not recovered until the day following the tragedy.

Acidental Drownings

I was present during this tragic event, (occurring on my 20th birthday),and was one of several enlisted personnel that performed first aid,(artificial respiration),to those brought ashore.
As a correction however, it was the 981st Battalion, NOT the 891st, as this article heading has stated in error.
I attempted resuscitation on my home-town neighbor, John Reed of Saratoga Springs, NY - to no avail. After which I accompanied his body back to his home in that city.
I only wish others like myself (who eventually located this article), hadn't encountered the misleading error in the unit designation.