On January 13, MSG Nathan Goodman, an experienced jumper with the Army 3rd Special Forces Group and a Green Beret team sergeant, was killed in a HALO (High-Altitude, Low-Opening) parachuting accident in Arizona.
The Army opened an investigation to determine the cause of the accident.
Goodman had had over 200 freefall jumps and was a free fall military jumpmaster. Therefore, his death left friends and family wondering how this could have happened. His wife Kelly had posted on Facebook right after the fatal accident described what many felt.
“He is such a skilled jumper,” she wrote. “There’s no reason this should have happened! I’m just out of words.”
Goodman was born in Pasadena, CA, and grew up near Chicago, Ill. He joined the Army more than 17 years ago. He completed initial training at Fort Benning, Ga., before being posted to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii as part of the 27th Infantry Regiment.
In 2005, he transferred to the Army National Guard and attended Special Forces Assessment and Selection. He graduated in October 2007 as an engineer sergeant and served with the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne) until he returned to active duty with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Group in 2010.
He had a stint with 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) from 2016 to 2018 as a senior instructor, then chief instructor. He then returned to 3rd Group and later became an operations team sergeant of Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha 3314. He completed tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Africa.
On the fateful night, his team was conducting a high-altitude, high opening (HAHO) jump from a civilian aircraft. They were jumping from 11,000 feet. Each operator was to jump, stabilize, and deploy their pilot chute in about four seconds. This method of infiltration allows jumpers to fly in formation (stack) over a significant amount of space and land undetected.
Upon exiting the aircraft, all appeared to be normal according to the jumper that jumped right behind him. But as Goodman reached for the bottom of his chute to throw out the pilot chute, which catches the wind and drags out the main canopy, he became unstable.
Goodman was the primary jumpmaster. So he was the second to last to exit the aircraft. One of the other jumpers told investigators that he observed a partially inflated canopy doing rotations before falling from sight.
Goodman’s automatic activation device, known as a Cypres, did deploy correctly. The investigation report stated that, “in this case, the Cypres [device] worked properly, but because the reserve was most likely tangled around MSG Goodman’s body and equipment, it was ineffective.”
Because of the altitude involved, Goodman’s main canopy was found nearly a mile from his body, which was located about six miles from the intended drop zone. His equipment was scattered over a wide area as well.
The accident investigation was first obtained by the Army Times through the Freedom of Information Act. According to the investigation, Goodman, “most likely dipped his right shoulder” when he reached back, causing him to become destabilized and spin. Goodman was jumping with full combat equipment and breathing from an oxygen mask.
Goodman had complained of right shoulder pain before and during the jump. The shoulder pain was cited during the investigation and may have possibly played a role in what caused his shoulder to dip causing him to destabilize.
Goodman’s “main parachute and lines deployed around him and became entangled in his [night vision goggles] and even possibly other equipment,” the investigation found. As trained, he cut away from his main canopy and deployed his reserve chute, but that too became entangled all around him.
It is important to note that the Special Forces team was transitioning to a new style of parachute beginning on January 9.
With the previous equipment, free-fall jumpers would pull a ripcord located on their right shoulder, which launches a spring-loaded pilot chute and deploys the main canopy. But during the training in Arizona, the Green Berets were being taught a different method that requires the jumper to reach down to the bottom of their chute and hand-deploy a pilot chute that they then throw into the wind.
The method is common among civilian skydivers. It is also regularly used by Military Free-Fall School instructors at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
According to Colonel T.J. Rainsford, Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) spokesman, Army free-fall special operators are required to transition to this method, according to April 2019 training guidance cited in the investigation. The new method is ultimately safer and considered the “current industry standard.”
“It is a simple and secure deployment method and almost completely eliminates the possibility of a pilot [chute] hesitation during deployment,” Rainsford said to the Army Times, adding that it also helps standardize the deployment methods used by instructors and students.
However, the investigation highlighted a concern. The new method, which requires jumpers to reach back rather than simply grab the ripcord at their shoulder, could introduce range-of-motion issues for some individuals, especially if they destabilize during free-fall. And unlike civilian skydivers, special operations troops jump with a lot of gear that could easily cause the jumper to become destabilized.
When the military began the transition to this system, it produced slides for their training program. The slides were included in the Army Times piece which highlighted this exact issue.
“While the use of a [hand-deployed pilot chute] system is safer, it does pose a greater risk to parachutists that cannot conduct a stable exit, stable free-fall, or maintain heading control throughout the deployment.”
Goodman had gone through the certification for the new method, including work in a wind tunnel at a private facility. He was certified by a free fall instructor with over 2,500 jumps. He had conducted 13 prior jumps with no issues before the night of January 13.
The Army’s investigation called for a working group to be formed. Its purpose is to discuss potential issues with transitioning to the new method, adjust the regulations as needed, and ensure that such accidents don’t repeat.
One of the recommendations that have been implemented is that regardless of the number of jumps an operator has, “If [a] jumper exhibits instability on more than three jumps, instructors/graders will begin monitoring [them] more closely and capturing feedback on camera, as well as provide written feedback.” That jumper then has to go through remedial training.