Sgt. Shaina Schmigel died during a nighttime static line jump May 30, 2014, over Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
According to the informal AR 15-6 investigation, Schmigel's equipment was misrouted so that, when exiting the plane, she became a "towed jumper." While be being towed, the subsequent jumper exited the plane and Schmigel became entangled in his T-11 parachute. Schmigel reportedly died from fatal lacerations to the throat and a broken neck. The entire incident lasted three to four seconds, according to the report.
The findings, obtained by Army Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, are from the investigation conducted within the 82nd Airborne Division; another investigation represents the Army's formal query into the incident. That safety accident report by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center has been completed and sent to command for review, and will be released in November or December, according to USACRC FOIA officer Vickie Hendrix.
The AR 15-6 report recommended permanently decertifying one of the jumpmasters who served as a safety during the training, conducted by 37th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. It was noted the jumpmaster, who was conducting his first safety duty, was not current in his training at the time of the jump, and that he failed to attend the briefing prior to the operation. While finding negligence, the investigator found no criminal wrongdoing.
The informal report said Schmigel likely exited the plane properly. She would have been uninjured and fully conscious for the second or so that she was towed before the next jumper hit her, investigators surmised.
The report details the sequence of events and includes witness testimony and a detailed overview of the physical evidence.
No one knew something was wrong until the paratroopers landed and Schmigel was found unresponsive, the investigation found. After the mid-air collision, Schmigel was knocked free and her parachute deployed normally, according to the investigation. The jumper whose lines likely killed her did not realize an accident had occurred.
What caused the accident?
Schmigel, an intelligence analyst from Medina, New York, was the 16th jumper to exit the C-17 that night. Prior to the incident there were "no major deficiencies or anything out of place."
But during the investigation, her equipment was examined and it was found Schmigel's static line had been misrouted below her main curve pin protective flap. The soldier serving as her safety did not check the jumpers' static lines "beyond checking to see that the static lines were routed over the jumpers' correct shoulder."
"When Sgt. Schmigel's static line was fully extended to the portion of the static line just above the curve pin protective cover … her static line became wedged beneath her main curve pin protective flap because it was misrouted in such a manner to catch both corners of the main curve pin protective flap. As a result, Sgt. Schmigel's full body weight was causing the main curve pin protector flap grommet to be pressed against her main curve pin which interrupted her T-11 parachute's deployment sequence."
Being towed was probably not enough to have killed the young soldier, the investigator wrote.
"There are many historical instances of towed jumpers receiving similar shocks and not receiving an significant injuries as a result," the report states.
The 17th jumper quickly followed and it is suspected Schmigel became entangled in the suspension lines of his parachute.
Among the issues noted in the investigation summary:
• One safety stood by watching, rather than helping ensure that checks were thorough.
• Neither the two right door safeties nor the battalion commander attended a pre-flight jumpmaster brief held two days before the jump.
• The safety who the report recommended lose his jumpmaster status, had gone too long (by five days) between Jumpmaster School Graduation and completing certification without a refresher.
• All four safeties — a role requiring rank of E-5 or higher — were conducting their first safety duty. And the crew did not fully utilize all the safeties, despite having two per door.
• The incident would not have occurred if the soldiers had used a T-10 version of the pack closing tie (the rope holding the parachute together that is broken when it deploys).
• Schmigel's rucksack weighed 31 pounds after the incident, rather than the minimum 35.
The investigation recommended an Army-wide study on wear patterns for the main curve pin protective flap to determine the prevalence of the static line being misrouted. It also recommended a study of opening irregularities of T-11s.
Other recommendations included:
• Stating in policy that safeties must check static lines down to the curved pin protector flap.
• Tasking experienced jumpmaster safeties with accompanied base-lining and first-time safeties.
• Attaching GoPro cameras to safeties for the purpose of training others and aiding in possible future investigation. (The investigation noted that the video from the plane did not prove useful in determining what happened during the night mission.)
• The report also noted that an initial and ultimately incorrect assumption — that Schmigel's static line caused the accident — caused an issue with key evidence. The next jumper's parachute was initially released before it was properly examined. The investigation recommended clarifying and updating standard operating procedure in the death of a paratrooper.
Schmigel enlisted in the Army in 2011 and went through basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, advanced individual training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and airborne school at Fort Benning. Later that year she was assigned to Fort Bragg. She was promoted to sergeant Jan 1, 2014, five months before she died.