SEAL Recruit Turned Blue, Didn't Want Others to Call 911

Kyle Mullen died of acute pneumonia, with the contributing cause of an enlarged heart
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2022 11:06 AM CDT
Investigation Details Recruit's Final Hours After 'Hell Week'
Navy SEAL candidates participate in "surf immersion" during Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training at the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Center in Coronado, Calif., on May 4, 2020.   (MC1 Anthony Walker/US Navy via AP, File)

Kyle Mullen died in February within hours of completing the arduous Navy SEAL training known as "Hell Week." Eight months later, three officers who oversaw the training have been reprimanded, on the same day that a 320-page investigation into the 24-year-old's death was released. What you need to know:

  • Cause of death: The investigation found Mullen died of acute pneumonia, with the contributing cause of an enlarged heart. Though performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) were found among Mullen's things and can cause an enlarged heart, CBS News and the AP report the investigation explicitly stated PEDs did not contribute to his death and were not found in his system (though blood and urine tests weren't conducted). The report states he died "in the line of duty, not due to his own misconduct."

  • The training: During the Sunday-through-Friday Hell Week period, recruits were permitted only four hours of sleep in total. By that Friday, Mullen had twice been given oxygen and had been transported to one location in an ambulance in order to complete the training. Upon finishing, he needed a wheelchair. NBC News reports Mullen had gained 22 pounds caused by swelling and fluid retention during the week, but it notes those are among the common symptoms that recruits are warned in advance they could experience.
  • Medical care after the training: The New York Times reports that upon completion, recruits were given a written briefing that stated "in capital letters not to seek outside medical help, because it could jeopardize their training." Medical staffers eventually went home, per the Times, leaving the candidates to be overseen by newer recruits who had yet to begin Hell Week and had no medical experience. The investigation cited one recruit who said he saw medical personnel pass through the barracks only once, though he described it as a head-count check, not a medical check.
  • Mullen deteriorates: Per the investigation, witnesses said Mullen was spitting up red-colored fluid, turned blueish, and struggled to breathe. Mullen reportedly told the recruits who grew concerned about his condition that he didn't want to go to the hospital because he feared he would get booted to another class and be forced to undergo Hell Week again. The recruits did finally call 911, but at that point it was too late.
  • Changes: Going forward, medical personnel will oversee recruits for a 24-hour period following Hell Week. The AP notes the three officers who were reprimanded weren't directly blamed for Mullen's death, and no one has been fired.
(Read more Navy SEALs stories.)

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