Clipped From The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise
Winds mar parachute jump; four die By BRIAN K. BLAND Aflsoclatrd Press Writer FORT IRWIN, Calif. (AP) - A paratrooper whose pelvis was broken in a huge airborne military exercise that left four dead and 71 injured says a gust of wind hit-him about 50 feet above the California desert, snarling the straps of his parachute. "(hit the ground, rolled about three times and started to pass out," said Army Spec. 4 Danile Maynard, 24, of New York City, one of 2,300 soldiers who took part Tuesday in the first exercise of units of the Rapid Deployment Force from all four military services. The jump was one of the largest ever in peacetime U.S. military history. Three of the injured paratroopers were reported in critical condition with head injuries at Loma Linda University Medical Center, 60 miles from the jump site. Three other soldiers were hospitalized there and five were at other hospitals. Lt. Gen. Robert C. Kingston, commander of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, said the exercise was conducted in winds varying from 6 to 10 knots. He said 13 knots, about IS mph, is considered the maximum allowable wind velocity in peacetime training exercises such as Gallant Eagle 82. Deputy San Bernardino County Coroner Marshall Franey said Tuesday that an external examination of the four bodies showed the men "appeared to have died of head or neck injuries," and one had a fractured arm and leg. "We won't know the exact cause of death until autopsies are completed, but the injuries suggest they were dragged by their parachutes," he said, referring to all four victims. Asked about reports that two parachutes had malfunctioned, he repeated that the cause of the deaths was still uncertain. Kingston said, "One soldier apparently was dragged." Two paratroopers were killed after their parachutes malfunctioned and the fourth landed on a piece of heavy equipment, officials said. The 2,300 paratroopers, members of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., jumped from C-141 jets 800 feet above the Mojave Desert just after dawn Tuesday. Late Tuesday, two C-130 cargo planes took 60 injured paratroopers to Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, where they were loaded onto a C-141 Starlifter for a flight back to Fort Bragg. Maynard, speaking from his bed at Loma Linda hospital, said the jump had been called off once as the planes approached the drop zones after authorities estimated winds were gusting to 45 mph on the ground. But shortly afterward the soldiers were told the jump was on. Maynard said the troops expressed no concern about the wind and wished one another luck as their plane flew toward the target area. "On the plane they told us It (the wind) was only 4 to 6 knots," said James Davis, 19, of High Point, N.C., who was hospitalized with groin and back injuries at Loma Linda. Davis said when he jumped he found himself wrestling with what he estimated was a 35 knot, or 40 mph, wind. "My feet hit first, then my rear end, then my head," Davis said. The wind caught the chute, and Davis estimated he was dragged three-quarters of a mile over rocks and plants before the wind died. As he slid across the ground, Davis saidhe saw other men in his unit being dragged across the rugged terrain and trying to control their parachute canopies. Other jumpers were more successful. "The wind wasn't that bad — I made a pretty good landing," said Pvt. Elliot Skillern, 18, of Houston. Several other troopers also said tht wind didn't seemed particularly strong. Names of the dead were withheld until relatives could be notified. Despite the deaths, Kingston said the jump was successful. "I was pleased that we were able to get — eventually — all the heavy drop and personnel drop in," Kingston said. Officials said it could take a month to determine the causes of the accidents. The chutes of two men failed to deploy fully and became what soldiers call "streamers," said Navy Cmdr. Milton Baker. Another man died when he landed on a heavy piece of equipment that had just been dropped by parachute. The paratroopers were instrscted to use a "pop-and-run" procedure when they hit the ground, said Lt. Col. Ron Johnston. In that procedure, a quick- release device on the parachutes is used to prevent a soldier being dragged by the giant T-10 chutes. Johnston told reporters Monday that, on an average jump, a 1 percent injury rate was expected. Lt, Col. Patrick Cannon said the 82nd, which engages in many jumps each year, had averaged between one and two fatalities a year for the past 10 years.