Man who died during scuba diving class at American Lake identified by medical examiner

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A Tacoma man and military veteran who died Saturday during a dive class at American Lake on Joint Base Lewis-McChord was identified Wednesday by the Pierce County medical examiner.

George Howard III, 42, was part of a civilian class scuba diving from Russell Landing on the west shore of the lake. He never resurfaced, and his body was recovered that afternoon by divers with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. The medical examiner has not yet determined Howard’s cause of death.

The Sheriff’s Department’s Metro Dive Team was called to the lake about 12:18 p.m. by dispatchers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, department spokesperson Sgt. Darren Moss said Saturday. By that time, Howard had been missing for more than an hour. Using sonar, divers located and recovered the man’s body about 4:30 p.m.

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division will investigate the incident with assistance from the Metro Dive Team, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The agency did not immediately respond to a phone call Thursday.

In a GoFundMe set up by a friend of the deceased to raise money for funeral costs, Howard was described as someone with a “serving heart” who had a big smile and lived larger than life. He worked for 14 years at Vermeer Northwest, a commercial and industrial equipment supplier southeast of Tacoma.

George Howard III, 42, died Saturday during a civilian dive class at American Lake on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He was a military veteran and worked for 14 years at Vermeer Northwest, a commercial and industrial equipment supplier located southeast of Tacoma. 
George Howard III, 42, died Saturday during a civilian dive class at American Lake on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He was a military veteran and worked for 14 years at Vermeer Northwest, a commercial and industrial equipment supplier located southeast of Tacoma.

The man’s employer said in a Facebook post that Howard was a friend to many who walked through the dealership’s doors over the past 14 years.

“George brought so much good into the lives of all who knew him,” the post reads. “He is and will be greatly missed.”

It’s unclear who was operating the dive class Howard was participating in. According to the Associated Press, the JBLM-run Northwest Adventure Center conducted an open water scuba diver certification on Saturday, but it appeared to have taken place in a different location.

JBLM Scuba, a shop at the Northwest Adventure Center, is a “5-Star Dive Center” certified by PADI, an industry association, according to the scuba shop’s website. A person who answered the phone there Thursday said a manager was not available to speak with The News Tribune.

A 42-year-old military veteran died Saturday, May 14 during a civilian scuba diving class at American Lake on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
A 42-year-old military veteran died Saturday, May 14 during a civilian scuba diving class at American Lake on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.