Parajumper’s Death Explained

Air Mobility Command and US Special Operations Command investigators have concluded that a series of human errors led to the death of an Army parajumper who jumped from a C-130H transport during a joint training mission at MacDill AFB, Fla., on Jan. 29. The parajumper, Col. James Merchant III, 46, drowned after landing in a retention pond adjacent to the base perimeter north of the intended drop zone. In a joint release April 23, the two commands said the mishap was the result of a combination of events, including “inaccurate airdrop calculations” and “delays” in executing the airdrop sequence that resulted in Merchant departing the C-130 later than he should have. Merchant also did not turn into the wind during descent, causing additional drift from the drop zone, and, for reasons unknown, did not activate his functioning life preserver upon landing in the water. Further, there should have been a manned safety boat on the lake and the body of water should have been identified as an obstacle in the drop zone survey, the command investigators said. The C-130 was assigned to Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson AFB, Colo. (SOCOM’s release on Merchant’s death.) (For more, read the Tampa Tribune’s Jan. 29 report.)