Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Navy SEAL “Leap Frogs” and the Disturbing Number of Parachuting Deaths

They usually make it look so easy. The United States Navy Parachute Team "Leap Frogs," a highly trained group of SEAL parachutists, regularly perform at airshows, sporting events and other celebrations. Last Sunday, during Fleet Week in New York, something went tragically wrong. A SEAL Leap Frog skydiver, Remington J. Peters,  died when his chute detached and he fell into the Hudson River near Liberty State Park as thousands looked on in horror.  

The Navy is currently investigating the events which led to the SEAL skydiver's death.  As relatively rare as such accidents may be, the Military Times published last February the results of their analysis which showed that there has been a 60 percent increase in parachuting deaths among Navy SEALS and other special operators over the previous five-year period, according to 13 years worth of records obtained and analyzed by the publication.  Overall, since 2004, 21 US military Special Operators have died in parachute training.  11 have died in such training accidents between 2011 and 2016 alone.  From the Military Times article, The Navy SEALs and other secretive units are quietly battling a frightening rise in parachute deaths

This rise in training deaths alarmed senior leaders at U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees the SEALs and each of the four military services' most elite units. In September 2015, just two weeks after the investigation into Kortz's death was completed, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, SOCOM's commander at the time, quietly launched an intervention, halting all free-fall jumps for three months. Votel is now the head of U.S. Central Command.

Across Special Operations Command, his cessation order was vast and included several urgent steps to enhance safety measures, Military Times has learned. A SOCOM-wide review of all free-fall programs was conducted, focusing on procedures, doctrine and equipment. Additionally, all jumpmasters were retrained and sent back to their units to re-qualify all jumpers. The Military Freefall Working Group was established to review lessons learned from these episodes.

A SOCOM spokesman, Ken McGraw, expressed confidence that any shortcomings in the jump-training program have been identified and addressed.

But internally, SOCOM officials have struggled to identify a definitive cause behind the unsettling trend, and they have declined to discuss any lessons learned from the force-wide investigation.

While the focus of the investigation is on parachute deaths during training, the tragic death during New York's Fleet Week, was not the first during such an exhibition. In 2015, at the Chicago Air and Water Show, an Army skydiver, a member of the Army Golden Knights parachute team, died after a mid-air collision with a Navy SEAL Leap Frog team member, during a group maneuver.

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