The Navy SEAL community and the wider U.S. Navy is heartbroken this Memorial Day weekend to have lost another one of our own.  As reported by WABC New Jersey and the Associated Press, an as-yet-unidentified Navy SEAL died on May 28th when his parachute failed to open during a demonstration jump over the Hudson River, at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. 

The Navy SEAL was a member of the Navy’s “Leap Frogs,” which bills itself as the “United States Navy’s Parachute Team.”  The team is made up of SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare personnel, and was performing as part of Fleet Week, which takes place in the greater New York City area from May 26 to May 29 this year.

According to WABC, the SEAL fell into the Morris Canal off of the Hudson River after he cut away from his malfunctioning parachute during a demonstration jump.  The injured jumper was quickly removed from the water just after noon on Sunday by local first responders and the Coast Guard.  He was taken to Jersey City Medical Center but was sadly pronounced dead shortly after 1:00 PM.

Navy spokeswoman Heather Welch confirmed the SEAL’s death on Sunday afternoon, only hours after he was pulled from the water.  There was no mention on the Leap Frogs’ social media accounts of the accident, which is to be expected pending notification of the fallen SEAL’s family.  The Leap Frogs’ Twitter account posted at 9:30 AM on Sunday that New York City could see the jump, giving the time and location. 

The SEALs and the wider U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) community have been hit with a number of parachute-related deaths over the past decade-plus.  A Military Times report from February 2017 pointed out that 11 special operators had died in parachute training accidents between 2011 and 2016.  Since 2004, furthermore, 21 U.S. SOF personnel have died in parachute training accidents.

Only five of those 21 deaths were as a result of “static line” parachuting, according to the Military Times report.  The remaining 16 occurred during “free-fall” parachuting.  Static line parachuting refers to the method of chute deployment in which a line attached to the parachute is also attached to the airframe from which the parachutist jumps.  The deployment of the chute is thus “automatic,” and does not require the jumper to perform an action to deploy his chute.

Free-fall parachuting, on the other hand, is done from a higher altitude, and requires the jumper to deploy his or her own chute at the appropriate time (there are also safety mechanisms in place to attempt to overcome human error).  Free-fall is generally considered a more advanced parachuting technique, and fewer U.S. military personnel become certified in free-fall parachuting than in static line parachuting.

The family and teammates of the fallen SEAL are in all of our prayers this Memorial Day weekend.  We will mourn his loss on Monday, a day on which we remember so many of our fallen brothers, and in the days to come.  Rest in peace, brother.

(Photo by Bryan Anselm for The New York Times.)