Military News

JBLM paratrooper dies during training exercise in Mason County

The Army and Mason County Sheriff’s officials are investigating what caused an accident at a routine military exercise near Shelton on Friday that killed a Green Beret from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The Army early Saturday confirmed the soldier’s death after a 10-hour search for his body.

The Army has not released the soldier’s name, but it confirmed that he served in JBLM’s elite 1st Special Forces Group.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and loved ones of the soldier involved in this tragic incident,” said group Commander Col. Otto K. Liller. “We will conduct a thorough investigation into this incident, and we will do everything in our power to support the family of the brave soldier who died today.”

The soldier’s death was the first fatal accident in a JBLM parachute exercise since a September 2005 jump that killed a member of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, according to Army Safety Center records obtained by The News Tribune. Pfc. Blake Samodell was killed after lines from his parachute tangled with cables from two other soldiers during a jump at JBLM.

The Mason County Sheriff’s Office reported that the Green Beret went missing near the community of Kamilche, south of Shelton. The base’s release said the operation occurred about noon, and after a search of the area, the body was found about 10 p.m.

The 1st Special Forces Group is one of four Special Operations units at JBLM that regularly practice jumping out of airplanes and helicopters at landing zones at JBLM, the Yakima Training Center and other points in Washington.

Mason County Chief Deputy Ryan Spurling said the Army frequently uses a landing zone at Sanderson Field, a large airfield north of Shelton, for paratrooper training. He did not know whether the accident took place aftera jump out of a helicopter or an airplane.

The Mason County coroner’s office is expected conduct an investigation into the accident.

Typically the Army carries out two investigations after a training death. One usually looks at the context of the incident and attempts determine whether it could have been prevented. The other more technical report comes from investigators at the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

The Army has not said what kind of parachute the soldier used during his jump. Army Times reported in June that Special Forces units were starting to use a new kind of parachute this summer that would give soldiers better maneuverability. It’s not clear whether the new parachute is in use at JBLM.

About 110 people from military, tribal and civilian agencies participated in the search for the soldier after he was reported missing, Spurling said.

“When these type of things occur, people just step up to the plate,” he said.