An airman’s failure to see and avoid a lower jumper during an August 2015 training jump at Eglin AFB, Fla., caused a head-to-head collision that killed the two special tactics airmen assigned to the 720th Operations Support Squadron, Air Force Special Operations Command investigators found. During freefall, TSgt. Timothy Officer, a tactical air control party airman, failed to see and avoid TSgt. Marty B. Bettelyoun, a combat controller, who had the right of way as the lower jumper, according to an AFSOC release announcing the findings of the accident investigation report. Both airmen were knocked unconscious, but automatic activation devices opened their reserve parachutes. First responders’ repeated attempts to resuscitate Officer and Bettelyoun were unsuccessful and both died from their injuries sustained during the accident. The president of the investigation board, Brig. Gen. Vincent Becklund, concluded Officer’s use of an overaggressive freefall body position to descend rapidly to a lower jumper, overestimation of his ability to avoid other jumpers while descending rapidly, and distraction after a near collision with another jumper substantially contributed to the mishap. Becklund found an incomplete pre-jump briefing by the jumpmaster—which left the jumpers confused about which freefall formation they were using, causing some to move in different directions at varying speeds—also substantially contributed to the accident, even though it did not violate military instructions or guidance. Officer and Bettelyoun were both combat veterans. “This unfortunate and tragic accident resulted in the loss of two highly trained combat veterans,” Becklund said, according to the release, “and we hope the findings bring closure to the loved ones of our fallen airmen.”
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.