Army skydivers returning to Fort Bragg after member's death

AP News
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Posted: Aug 17, 2015 6:30 PM
Army skydivers returning to Fort Bragg after member's death

CHICAGO (AP) — Members of a U.S. Army skydiving team were grieving and regrouping Monday after one of their parachutists died from injuries suffered during a stunt at the Chicago Air & Water Show. Team members returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for counseling, and the team canceled an appearance at the Kansas City Air Show this weekend. Experts say there are always dangers when free-falling at 120 mph, but they are compounded in stunts involving multiple skydivers.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The Army Golden Knights and Navy Leap Frogs parachute teams were performing a stunt Saturday known as a "bomb burst," where members clasp hands in a circle formation as red smoke trails from their packs, then separate to create a colorful visual in the sky. As they were separating, Sgt. 1st Class Corey Hood collided with a Navy skydiver and was knocked unconscious. Witnesses said Hood's emergency parachute deployed, but he drifted into a high-rise apartment building before falling to the ground.

He died on Sunday. The other parachutist, who hasn't been identified, landed on a beach near the show's main viewing area and suffered a broken leg, officials said

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WHAT ARE THE DANGERS?

Parachutists generally free fall at about 120 mph before opening their chutes. If two or more jumpers bump into each other while falling in the same direction, there might be nothing more than a mild jolt, said Jim Crouch, director of safety and training at the U.S. Parachute Association. But if they collide while going in different directions, the great speed can cause severe injuries, he said. If a parachutist is unconscious, as Hood was, "you just drift where the parachute takes you," he said.

Hood was at least the third fatality of a Golden Knights member during competition in the more than 50 years since the team was formed. The first was in 1970, in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the second was in 1980, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, according to the Golden Knights Alumni Association website. Other members have died during training jumps, according to the website.

Freefall collisions are rare, and the Golden Knights have "a long history of doing public display jumps safely and carefully," Crouch said.

Crouch didn't have statistics for military parachutists, but said that in 2014 there were 24 fatal civilian skydiving accidents out of about 3.2 million jumps. That's far fewer than the average 42 fatalities per year in the 1970s, he said, attributing the improvement to better equipment and training.

Golden Knights spokeswoman Donna Dixon said the team has been doing the "bomb burst" formation for more than 50 years. Members undergo eight weeks of intensive training before being selected, then complete 10 weeks of winter training and certification before they can perform for the air show season, she said.

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WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The Golden Knights demonstration team has been put on a "safety stand down" and returned to their base where members will have access to counseling while the Army investigates Hood's death, Dixon said.

She said the Army will work to ensure everyone is mentally and physically fit to continue with the show season, adding that the team's performance schedule could be affected.

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WHO WAS SGT. HOOD?

Hood, 32, of Cincinnati, Ohio, wanted to be a soldier since childhood, and was "proud to serve his country," his stepfather, Wayne Mills, told the Chicago Tribune. Hood served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and had earned numerous awards, including two Bronze Stars.

The family worried that something might happen to Mills while he was deployed," Mills said. And while the family is grieving his death now, "what makes it easier ... is that he wasn't in some hellhole somewhere, and just some stat. He was surrounded by people who loved him."

Hood is survived by his wife, Lyndsay.