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Air Force Special Operations Command halts all parachuting, diving, and mountaineering ops after airmen deaths

A Para-Commando assigned to the U.S. Special Operations Command performs a free fall during the Opening Ceremony of Aviation Nation at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Nov. 16, 2019. The USSOCOM Para-Commandos are comprised of active duty special operators. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
December 18, 2019

This week, the U.S. Air Force has halted all parachuting, diving, and mountaineering operations after the deaths of two airmen in October and November.

Air Force Special Operations Command spokeswoman Maj. Amanda Reeves confirmed in an email to Air Force Times – who first reported the suspension — on Tuesday that the suspension took place Dec. 3 and will continue until further notice.

“AFSOC, in coordination with U.S. Special Operations Command and the U.S. Air Force, is reviewing all equipment, safety procedures and regulations pertaining to these specialized skills,” Reeves told Air Force Times.

“After a comprehensive evaluation is complete and any necessary changes are identified and implemented, operations are expected to resume,” she added.

Reeves said the suspension was directed by AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. Jim Slife.

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“He chose to suspend these operations so command could take a thorough look at the training, regulations, procedures and equipment in place and make sure it is all as safe as possible,” she said, adding that Slife “takes the safety of airmen incredibly seriously.”

The suspension directly followed the deaths of Tech. Sgt. Peter Kraines and Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff, and the investigations that followed. However, Reeves said the investigations had not yet identified any specific issues with operations that caused the deaths.

Condiff, 29, reportedly fell from a C-130 during a training flight over the Gulf of Mexico, south of Hurlburt Field in the Florida panhandle on Nov. 5. A massive search operation was immediately launched and lasted for three weeks, at which point Condiff was declared dead.

Kraines, 33, a pararescueman, was killed after suffering a fall during a mountain rescue training exercise on Oct. 8.

Both airmen were with the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field.

“The safety of our Airmen is of the utmost importance. While there is inherent risk in the specialized skills required of our Airmen, we must balance the need to practice and execute those skills with our duty to effectively manage the risk to our force,” Reeves told Channel 3 news.

After Condiff’s death last month, Lt. Gen. Slife had said they would find lessons from the incident to honor fallen airmen.

“I’m proud of our AFSOC Airmen for the professionalism, discipline, and relentless pursuit of excellence they display every day. It’s been a tough week. We’ll grieve, we’ll see what lessons we need to learn, but we’ll be back at it just as hard. Anything less would dishonor those we’ve lost,” Slife said.