Efforts to financially assist the family of Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff, who was blown out of a C-130 transport aircraft into the Gulf of Mexico last week, have begun with a GoFundMe account. Because no remains or personal effects have been recovered, there are no plans yet for memorial services.
HURLBURT FIELD — The father of a Hurlburt Field airman presumed dead after a parachute training accident over the Gulf of Mexico last week remembered his son Monday as "a good kid" and "a thrill-seeker."
"He wasn’t afraid of anything," Todd Condiff said from the family’s Dallas home, recalling the early life of 29-year-old Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff of the Hurlburt Field-based 23rd Special Tactics Squadron.
"He was always a crazy kid," the father added.
In particular, Todd Condiff remembered discovering 3-year-old Cole walking atop a fence, remembered his son breaking an arm on at least a couple of occasions, and also remembered a father-and-son bear-hunting trip to Alaska.
"He loved God, family and country," Todd Condiff said. "I know it sounds like a country song, but that was Cole."
"He was a good kid, he was a good man," his father continued. "He had a good heart."
Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff became the subject of a widespread search of the Gulf of Mexico after what the Air Force’s 24th Special Operations Wing, which includes the 23rd STS, has called an "unplanned parachute departure" from a C-130 transport aircraft late Tuesday morning about two miles from Hurlburt Field.
Condiff’s accident touched off a massive four-day search that involved the U.S. Coast Guard, the Air Force, the Army, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, local law-enforcement and emergency response agencies. At one point, the search area encompassed 700 square miles, extending 30 miles into the Gulf of Mexico from Destin to Pensacola.
The Coast Guard suspended its search Friday, after air and boat crews "spent more than 130 hours on scene and searched more than 4,909 square-nautical miles over the course of four days but were unable to locate the airman," according to a Coast Guard news release.
Since Friday, the Air Force, with Navy assistance, has been leading efforts to recover Condiff and any personal effects that may be located. Public affairs personnel from the 24th Special Operations Wing were not immediately available Monday to provide details of that ongoing effort.
A GoFundMe account for Staff Sgt. Condiff’s family — he is survived by a wife and two young daughters — was started Sunday, and by Monday afternoon was well on its way to meeting its $100,000 goal. The account is online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-condiff-family
Many of the donations were accompanied by heartfelt messages like this one: "My Son is stationed with him. My heart aches for his family and fellow warriors. I am so very sorry. God bless his family, wife and sweet daughters. Keeping you all in my prayers during this difficult time. HERO."
Details of Condiff’s fall from the aircraft have not been officially addressed as an Air Force investigation continues.
But on Monday, Todd Condiff, saying the Air Force "has been 100 percent open" with the family, called it "just a freak accident."
Condiff said his son was serving as jumpmaster for the parachute training session, and the accidental deployment of his parachute came as he was going through safety checks with other airmen aboard the aircraft.
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A graduate of Sachse High School in suburban Dallas, Cole Condiff attended Utah Valley University and then spent two years on mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He enlisted in the Air Force in 2012, becoming a combat controller trained in a variety of skills and ready for immediate combat deployment.
Also according to an Air Force biography, in addition to being a jumpmaster, Condiff was a qualified air traffic controller, free-fall jumper, combat scuba diver and joint terminal attack controller, responsible for directing aircraft in combat operations.
During his military career, Condiff was deployed to Afghanistan and Africa, and earned decorations including the Air Force Commendation Medal for exceptionally meritorious service or achievement under combat conditions, and the Air Force Achievement Medal.
According to Todd Condiff, his son began considering a military career in high school, and may have chosen the Air Force in part because of time in the air with his father, a licensed private pilot.
"I used to take him flying all the time," Todd Condiff said.
Because no remains or personal effects have yet been recovered, the Condiff family has not yet planned any memorial services, according to Todd Condiff. When they are scheduled, services will be held both at Hurlburt Field and in Dallas, Condiff said.
"We would like to thank everyone for their support and love during our time of sorrow," Condiff told the Daily News. "We are so grateful for everyone who has prayed for us and our family and for all those who have worked effortlessly without thought for themselves in the search and rescue and now recovery of our son."