An investigation into the death of Col. Darron Wright in a 2013 training jump at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, found the experienced jumper became entangled in his parachute after an improper exit from the aircraft, never gained control of the spinning parachute, and didn't deploy his reserve "until it was too late."
But the report, prepared for Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, head of the 18th Airborne Corps, extended into other areas, noting that Wright and other "VIP jumpers" did not attend some pre-jump training, that Wright's MC-6 parachute "was not configured according to the latest changes published two years prior" and that the response of emergency medical teams, while not a contributor to Wright's death, "could be improved."
The report, obtained by Army Times via a Freedom of Information Act request, included 26 recommendations. Twenty-four of those have been completed, according to a spreadsheet provided by unit spokesman Col. Kevin Arata, and the remaining two, part of changes to parachute-packing operations, involve or are contingent on full manning levels, which will be achieved early next year.
"The bottom line is that leaders, training NCOs, individual jumpers, and jump master teams all have an important role to play in enforcing all the rules and regulations," Anderson said via email Oct. 27. "If the standards are not enforced, there is a possibility someone can get hurt or killed. This is a serious business and we have procedures in place to mitigate the dangers associated with such high-risk operations."
Six soldiers faced reprimands as a result of the incident, according to an Oct. 5 report in the Fayetteville Observer, including the battalion commander, whose name was redacted in the report.
The recommendations include improvements to training for medics and the inspection of their gear; new parachute-packing procedures to ensure required modifications are made; and new guidance for use of the MC-6 chute, "including required training and specified drop altitude," the report states.
The Sept. 23, 2013, jump was from the planned 1,000 feet; most units training with the chute jump from 1,200 feet, but the report noted "Army-wide policy or doctrine does not exist on this matter."
Jump organizers were not notified that some of the participants would wear MC-6 chutes until late in the planning process, the report states, and Wright, who'd logged 63 jumps during a career that included three tours in Iraq and a Bronze Star Medal with "V" device, "was inexperienced with the MC-6 parachute and had not jumped in over four years."
Wright's basic airborne refresher course training had expired by the day of the jump, according to the report, and several pre-jump training opportunities either were skipped or carried out improperly — he trained with a different reserve chute than the one he ended up using, for example.
The report, prepared by Brig. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, noted a "VIP culture" had developed in the unit that allowed such lapses by jumpers of a certain status. Anderson, who took command of the unit about three months before the fatal jump, wasn't aware such a culture existed, Arata said.
"We need to ensure the jumpmaster teams on each airborne operation, under the control of the airborne commander, realize and are reminded by their leadership that they are empowered to remove jumpers from the mission if they are late to training, have not completed training or will pose a safety risk to themselves or others on the jump," Anderson said.
The chute itself had control lines 10 inches shorter than required by updated Army guidance, as well as a "minor manufacturing defect," but neither factor contributed to the accident, the report states.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.