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Navy sailor with Coast ties drowns while fishing

Gates
Gates

A Navy chief petty officer who grew up in South Mississippi died last week trying to free an anchor stuck under water while fishing near Tampa, Fla., officials said.

Kenneth Gates, 32, of Lawrenceville, Ga., was serving with U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base. He attended D'Iberville Elementary and Ocean Springs Junior High, then high school and community college in Georgia.

He and a friend, Kearston Jones, 38, had launched a 19-foot fishing boat from the base's boat ramp April 19, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office told The Tampa Tribune. They anchored in about 20 to 30 feet of water, fished for a while, and realized the anchor was stuck when they tried to move to a new spot.

Gates dove into the water to free the anchor, but resurfaced, saying he was having trouble because of the strong current. He when down again but never resurfaced.

He was wearing a wetsuit and Crocs footwear and was using a breathing apparatus when he dove in, Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashley Johnson told the Tribune.

Officials searched for three days. His body was found floating in the search area Friday by a family boating, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Gates leaves behind a 7-year-old son, who will receive benefits from the nonprofit Special Operations Warrior Foundation, said CEO Joseph Maguire, a retired Navy SEAL vice admiral.

"We will take that family in as part of our organization and provide tutoring, preparation for college, and ensure a full college expense to any university in the nation," Maguire told The Tribune.

Gates, who arrived at SOCOM on July 16, enlisted in the Navy on Aug. 19, 2005, according to Navy personnel records.

A statement on the SOCOM website said he "was not only an integral part of the Navy team here at SOCOM, he was a caring father and an amazing mentor to the sailors who worked for him. He will be deeply missed at home and on base."

Visitation will be 1 p.m. Friday with a 2 p.m. service at Keelser Triangle Chapel. He will be buried at 11 a.m. Monday at Biloxi National Cemetery with military honors.

The Tampa Tribune, contributed to this story.

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