According to the investigation, Schmigel's static line was misrouted. When exiting the plane, her main curved pin — which holds a T-11 parachute together before it deploys — wasn't pulled free with the static line, so she became a "towed jumper." As she was towed, the subsequent jumper exited the plane and Schmigel became entangled in his 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, were based on an AR 15-6 investigation ordered by then-Maj. Gen. John Nicholson, 82nd Airborne Division Commander at the time. It was conducted by master-rated paratrooper Col. Antonio Fletcher, a member of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne. The Army's Combat Readiness Center has yet to release its own investigation, which centers on safety and accident prevention. The Quartermaster Corps also conducted an investigation focusing on riggers and equipment.
While finding negligence, the AR-15-6 investigator found no criminal wrongdoing.
The Army is considering modifications to the T-11 parachute to improve safety.
Photo Credit: Army
Commanders have acknowledged the new chute, which replaced the T-10, successfully reduced impact on the body during the jump and on landing, but that it can be challenging when exiting the aircraft.
"The T-11 doesn't open like the T-10," said Maj. Craig Arnold, commander of the Advanced Airborne School at Fort Bragg, who said exiting the aircraft properly has become more crucial. "There's a lot more things the parachute needs to do rather than just open."
Less than a year after Schmigel's death, two soldiers were killed during T-11 jumps within 10 days of each other, triggering a temporary freeze on airborne training and mandatory refresher training. Those investigations are ongoing, but Arnold said those two cases are "completely different" from Schmigel's.
Since the report of Schmigel's death was completed, the unit has implemented a number of policy changes since the report's conclusion, according to 82nd Airborne spokesman Master Sgt. Patrick Malone. Also, the jumpmaster singled out in the investigation "was decertified and has not performed jumpmaster duties since this incident," Malone said.
"First and foremost; Prayers, thoughts and condolences from across the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the 82nd Airborne Division remain with SGT Schmigel's friends and Family," Malone wrote in a prepared statement in response to Army Times' questions. "We never forget the loss of any of our Soldiers and remain dedicated to supporting the family and those affected by this tragic accident. Airborne operations within the 82nd Airborne Division are safer today because of what we have learned and implemented from this investigation."
Schmigel's mother told Army Times she is unhappy with the way the Army has dealt with the death of her daughter, citing limited and conflicting information.
"I've gotten four different stories," Karie Schmigel said. "My lawyer is not a happy camper. And neither am I."
She received a June 6 briefing from officers with the 2nd BCT. Three days prior she said she was informed they would have a lawyer in attendance, and she said it surprised and upset her. She said she hopes more soldiers are punished for her daughter's preventable death. She now has a lawyer and is considering action against the Army.
"I'm not just doing this for Shaina, I'm doing it for the next paratroopers," she said. "I just want answers, the truth and for people to be de-ranked and maybe people to lose their jobs."
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," the report said.
Investigators, upon inspection of her equipment, would later learn her static line had been misrouted below her main curve pin protective flap.
The soldier serving as Schmigel's safety did not check the jumpers' static lines "beyond checking to see that the static lines were routed over the jumpers' correct shoulder."
According to the report: "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."
Arnold said of the tangle: "It had never been seen before. It had never created that kind of tension on it."
Schmigel would have been uninjured and fully conscious for the second or so that she was towed before the next jumper hit her, the investigation surmised. After the mid-air collision, she was knocked free and her parachute deployed normally, according to the investigation.
The 17th jumper quickly followed and it is suspected Schmigel became entangled in the suspension lines of his parachute.
No one knew something was wrong until the paratroopers landed and Schmigel was found unresponsive, the investigation found. After a paratrooper lit a chemtrail light, the first medics reached Schmigel 15 minutes later; they found that she had no vital signs.
Among the issues noted in the investigation summary:
- Despite two safeties at each door, one stood by watching, rather than ensuring more thorough checks.
- Neither the two right door safeties nor the battalion commander attended a pre-flight jumpmaster brief held two days before the jump. A similar problem was identified in the investigation of the death of Col. Darron Wright, killed in a 2013 training jump with the MC-6 parachute. That investigation identified a "VIP culture" in which some jumpers did not attend pre-jump training.
- 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 sergeant 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, which has a pack-closing tie (the rope holding the parachute together that is broken when it deploys) instead of a main curve pin.
- 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:
- Consideration of additional design changes to better project the main curve pin "during mass exits."
- Stating in policy that safeties must check static lines down to the curved pin protector flap. Malone said that safeties have been now trained to specifically ensure that the static line isn’t misrouted below the protector flap.
- Pairing experienced jumpmaster safeties with accompanied base-lining and first-time safeties. Malone said leaders are now ensuring teams have a mix of experience to prevent all first-time crews.
- 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. Malone said GoPros will be mounted on the plane with views of both doors.
- 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.
All jumpmasters also underwent reinforcement training, Malone said, and the jumpmaster course had a day of training added that focuses exclusively on the role of safeties.
Schmigel enlisted in the Army in 2011. Later that year she was assigned to Fort Bragg. She was promoted to sergeant Jan. 1, 2014, five months before she died. Karie Schmigel called her daughter funny, outgoing, caring and earnest. She was proud of her daughter's service, despite her surprise that Shaina wanted to enlist.
Former Spc. Samantha Witt said she became "instant friends" with Schmigel when they met at Fort Bragg.
"She feels light when she walks into a room. People gravitate towards her, she was always a social butterfly," Witt said.
Witt has kept close with Schmigel's mother and followed the Army's handling of the case with skepticism. She said the mother "has lived with more grief and shown more patience than anyone else I can think could have."