Parachute incident under investigation

2 Oct 2002 | Staff Sgt. Jason C. Huffine

Thankful for what they called "superb training," local officials continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding a potentially tragic parachute incident here.

Both the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Judge Advocate General are seeking answers regarding the Sept. 21 training evolution in which three out of five static-line chutes failed to deploy after the Marines exited a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft.

According to officials, Marines with Air Delivery Platoon, Beach Terminal Operations Company, 2nd Transportation Support Battalion, conducted a heavy equipment drop over Drop Zone Pheasant. Five Marines exited the aircraft following three airdrop platforms.

In the air, three of the jumpers' main parachutes malfunctioned, causing them to deploy their reserves. The jumpers' names are being withheld until the investigation is complete.

According to 2nd TSB commanding officer, Col. John Wissler, after primary jumpmaster Sgt. Britton Howes and safety jumpmaster Sgt. John Laverde retrieved the five static-line deployment bags, they determined the bags still had main canopies attached. The pair immediately signaled the pilots to cease operations.

Wissler said while still in the aircraft, Howes and Laverde unpacked and inspected the main parachutes. They determined that suspension lines had been severed.

Wissler temporarily suspended parachute operation within his command and, as a precaution, all II Marine Expeditionary Force jump units were later directed to inspect their chutes.

Wissler said NCIS agents met the aircraft at Cherry Point, and confiscated 22 remaining main- and 19 reserve-parachutes, and related equipment. Two days later, officials discovered nine more chutes with severed lines. 

He explained the inspections determined suspension lines on thirteen main parachutes were severed in such a manner that pre-jump inspections "would not" detect any signs of tampering.

Agents and command representatives then inspected all remaining personnel parachutes at 2nd TSB and 2nd Radio Battalion. There were no other signs of tampering or discrepancies.

The MC1-1C, is a low-altitude, static-line main parachute. Its 35-foot-diameter canopy is capable of dropping a combat-equipped jumper with up to 365-pounds suspended weight. The T-10 troop chest reserve is only 28-feet in diameter, but can carry the equal weight.

In accordance with the ongoing criminal and JAG investigations, Air Delivery Platoon will inspect and repack all cargo and personnel chutes. The unit is required to report any discrepancies to authorities.

Wissler credits training and leadership at all levels with stopping the potential tragedy.

"Leaders at all levels are sometimes reluctant to halt an operation or training event due to safety concerns. Junior Marines are traditionally even more hesitant to stop an evolution that 'just doesn't feel right,'" he said. "It takes a bold individual to recommend to competent authority that an evolution be cancelled.

"Of more importance, the Sept. 21 events highlight that tough, realistic training conducted repetitively can prevent a potential tragedy. The superb training of aerial delivery personnel as evidenced by the quick reactions of the three jumpers  averted a near tragedy and are testament to the moral courage we expect of every Marine."