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Airman’s death caused by inadvertently deployed parachute, says Air Force report

U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Black Knights, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Team, The Black Daggers and Dutch Jumpmasters conduct a military free fall. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Manne/Released)
July 18, 2020

After a months-long Accident Investigation Board report, the USAF has concluded that a back-up parachute inadvertently deployed into the wind stream during a parachute jump training event, pulling a special tactics airman out of an aircraft and causing his death.

The accident report the Air Force released earlier this week concluded that the deployment of a T-11R reserve parachute led to the death of Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff, a Special Tactics combat controller with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, part of the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

According to the report, an “exhaustive” search was conducted for 17 days following the November 5 incident. Through combined efforts of the United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Army, United States Coast Guard, the FL Fish, and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, 4,546 square miles of the surface and subsurface of the northern Gulf of Mexico were searched in an effort to locate Condiff’s remains. His body was never recovered.

According to the report, the Accident Investigation Board President determined that the “mishap was caused by an incorrectly configured T-11R reserve parachute as a direct result of jumpmaster procedural knowledge on the T-11R Reserve inserts and side tuck-tabs.”

The Board President also found that additional factors substantially contributed to the incident, including the technical order process failing to deliver information effectively.

“Leadership lacked investment in time, intellect and resources for Training and Standards/Evaluations program management,” the report stated. “Inadequate organizational leadership led to insufficient command oversight of this event.”

The training event that led to 29-year-old Condiff’s death involved six teams participating in a “rodeo competition” meant to test aircrews and special operators on how quickly they can get to their location.

The competition included jump operations, an obstacle course, and land navigation, with teams landing in a drop zone specifically designated for personnel parachute operations.

As designated jumpmaster, Condiff was scouting ahead from the right paratroop door of the aircraft for the drop zone below. Condiff looked out the door of the MC-130 aircraft, which was flying at an altitude of 1,012 feet.

According to the report, witnesses on board saw Condiff’s reserve parachute inflate outside the right door. Condiff reportedly “impacted the aft door frame violently and generated a loud noise” before exiting the aircraft.

“Several witnesses heard a second loud noise that could have been [Condiff] impacting the exterior of the aircraft,” the report states. “The evidence indicated he likely sustained fatal injuries upon being pulled from the aircraft.”

In December, AFSOC ordered a suspension for its parachute, dive, and mountaineering training to allow officials to inspect equipment and review safety procedures.