Two Airmen were “messing” around on a single all-terrain vehicle in the cargo yard at Ali Al Salem Air Base last September when the driver lost control and the ATV rolled over, pinning the passenger to the ground and killing him instantly.
Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Ouellette, 23, of Merrimack, N.H., died in the Sept. 14, 2020, crash. An autopsy cited blunt force trauma to the head as the cause of death. The driver, also a staff sergeant, was treated for minor injuries and released. Neither Ouellette nor the driver—both assigned to the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron—were wearing seatbelts or helmets.
Accident investigators said the Airmen were driving the Polaris Ranger all-terrain utility vehicle at about 15 mph, 10 mph over the posted speed limit in the cargo yard. The driver told security forces the two were “just out joy-riding” and “hit the turn too hard.” He said he took his foot off the gas before turning the corner, but he did not remember hitting the breaks.
When the vehicle rose onto two wheels in the midst of the turn around 5 p.m. local time, the driver attempted to right the vehicle, but failed. He exited the passenger compartment through the protective roll cage, according to the ground accident investigation report, released April 13. Investigators believe Ouellette also attempted to jump from the ATV, but didn’t make it.
The driver found Ouellette pinned under the protective roll cage, but was unable to lift it off of him. He called his supervisor for emergency support and security forces and first responders arrived on the scene at 5:02 p.m. Ouellette was declared dead on arrival.
Ouellette was an aerial porter in the Air Force Reserve. He joined the Air Force on Oct. 10, 2014 and was a member of the 42nd Aerial Port Squadron at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.
“Ronald was a valued member of the Patriot Wing and there are no words that can heal the pain his loss brings,” said Air Force Col. Craig C. Peters, commander of the 439th Airlift Wing at the time, which includes Ouellette’s unit, according to Stars and Stripes. “The loss of our own, or any service member, is never easy. During this difficult time, our priority is to do all we can to lift and support his family, friends, fellow Airmen in his squadron, and loved ones who are struggling.”
The fatal accident occurred just two days after another deadly accident. Senior Airman Jason Khai Phan was killed while patrolling Ali Al Salem. Accident investigators concluded Airmen were not wearing seatbelts at the time of that crash and were inexperienced with the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle they were driving. Phan was assigned to the 66th Security Forces Squadron at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., and was deployed to the 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at the time.