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Report: Fired riverine squadron XO ignored advice, conditions before grounding

Aug. 27, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Capt. Adrian Garcia was fired from his job as executive officer in a Reserve riverine squadron after the April grounding of two patrol boats. (Navy via Facebook)

The two patrol boats arrived late at the refueling docks at Tybee Island, Ga., on April 13. It was Saturday evening, and the reservists from Coastal Riverine Squadron 10 were a little more than halfway into their training transit from Jacksonville, Fla., to Charleston, S.C.

Planned as a 12-hour-long daylight trip, the coastal cruise had seen some delays and was likely to slip past nightfall before the 34-foot-long boats tied up in Charleston. The crews were getting tired.

Back in Jacksonville, the squadron’s acting commanding officer, Capt. Adrian Garcia, convened a “go/no-go” meeting. His staff favored stopping the mission, as did the boat crews’ leadership. But Garcia decided to push forward. Both crews got underway and throttled up to speeds of more than 25 knots to make the final 80-mile leg.

Night fell as the boats steamed north.

At 9 p.m. the lead boat, PB 502, was driving at an estimated 28 to 30 knots when it struck a jetty near Charleston harbor. The jetty’s rocks tore into the aluminum hull. The impact caused serious injuries to three crew members, according to a newly released investigation.

This report, which Navy Times obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, concluded Garcia was at fault for continuing the mission into nightfall — and at high speed — with ill-prepared and tired reservists and over the objections of his staff; Garcia was fired July 16.

“Despite having the requisite knowledge, the opportunity to recognize the unacceptable safety risks involved in continuing the training event, the almost unanimous staff advice to stop the event at the 1800 Tybee Island, Georgia fuel stop, and both the responsibility and obligation to stop the event, Capt. Garcia failed to do so,” concluded Rear Adm. Michael Tillotson, head of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, in a July 1 letter closing the investigation. “It was this unjustifiable acceptance of risk that directly led to the grounding of PB 502, injury to seven sailors, and the damage, beyond repair, of a [34-foot] patrol boat.”

In addition to poor planning and oversight, the investigation found that the boats lacked electronic charting hardware and didn’t navigate properly, contributing to the accident. The second patrol boat later ran aground while watching over PB 502 after it sank.

Three crew members were hospitalized with serious injuries, including a liver laceration, concussion, a fractured femur and ribs, according to the report. The patrol boat was worth about $1.2 million.

Garcia, a 48-year-old surface warfare Reserve officer, did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

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