On November 5, 2019, Staff Sergeant Cole Condiff, a Combat Controller (CCT) assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Florida, was accidentally pulled out of an MC-130 aircraft during a static-line parachute jump over the Gulf of Mexico.

As he was dragged out of the aircraft, the Combat Controller hit the aircraft’s fuselage. The injuries from the impact were either fatal or rendered SSG Condiff unconscious. Despite the fact that both his main and reserve parachute were properly deployed, the aircraft crew spotted them, SSG Condiff sunk into the sea.

He was declared dead on November 8. A 17-day recovery operation failed to retrieve his body.

Earlier this week, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) finished its investigation into the incident. The inquiry found that SSG Condiff’s reserve parachute was incorrectly packed. During that fateful day, SSG Condiff was serving as a jumpmaster for the static-line jump. The investigation has revealed that SSG Condiff’s reserve parachute (T-11R model) was inadvertently opened while he was spotting the drop zone.

Furthermore, the investigation found that a safety guidance about that particular model of parachute (T-11R) hadn’t been effectively distributed across the force; Air Force riggers didn’t know that the side tuck tabs of the parachute were prone to open if exposed to wind streams and not properly packed. Also, according to the investigation, SSG Condiff’s leadership didn’t invest resources in proper training and the maintenance of standards.

Lieutenant General Jim Slife, the commander of AFSOC, said in a press release that  “It is apparent that these losses are a tragic consequence of a culture shaped by the demands of the last 20 years. Across AFSOC, we normalized a culture overly focused on mission accomplishment, causing a lapse in training rigor, strict adherence to standards, and vigorous oversight of high-risk activities at all command echelons.”

Air Force identifies missing Combat Controller

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Staff Sergeant Cole Condiff.

The Air Commandos were participating in the Special Tactics Rodeo competition, which is a way to strengthen comradeship within the force through various events.

The investigation was conducted by the Accident Investigation Board (AIB), headed by Major General L. Kip Clark, who is AFSOC’s senior Air National Guard advisor.

“Our people truly are our greatest asset,” added Lt. Gen. Slife. “We owe it to them to continually evaluate how we operate and how we can be more effective. . . our Airmen have always found a way to do what we’ve asked of them. It is our responsibility now to improve how we resource and develop them in order to remove as much risk from their missions as possible.”

You can read the full report here.