Death of Hurlburt Field airman prompts Air Force investigation, suspension of some training and operations
Nearly a month after Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff experienced what the Air Force is calling an “unplanned parachute departure” from a C-130 combat aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico, the Air Force halted all of its specialized training and operations involving parachuting, mountaineering and diving.
That temporary halt remains in place as the year comes to an end, and an Air Force investigation into the circumstances of the incident aboard the C-130 also is ongoing. That investigation is being conducted by a board including representatives of Air Force Special Operations Command and other Air Force personnel.
Results of the probe, when it is completed, will be made available to the public, but that can be a lengthy process. By way of comparison, the accident investigation board appointed following a 2017 fire at the McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force did not release its report until nearly a year after the blaze.
Thus far, the most detailed official comment on the Nov. 5 incident has come in a Nov. 9 Facebook post from Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command.
As the search for Condiff transitioned into a recovery operation, Slife wrote, “It’s a truism that the best way to keep Airmen alive in combat is to have high standards and train hard. It’s also a truism that when you train hard, you’ll lose Airmen to training accidents. I hate the second part only slightly less than I hate the consequences of ignoring the first part.
“I’m proud of our AFSOC Airmen for the professionalism, discipline, and relentless pursuit of excellence they display every day. It’s been a tough week. We’ll grieve, we’ll see what lessons we need to learn, but we’ll be back at it just as hard. Anything less would dishonor those we’ve lost.”
Condiff, a 29-year-old Special Tactics combat controller with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, reportedly was serving as jumpmaster for a parachute training mission when his parachute accidentally deployed while he was performing safety checks on other airmen, but the Air Force has not gone beyond describing the incident as an “unplanned parachute departure” from the aircraft.
Condiff’s departure from the aircraft initiated an intensive four-day rescue effort by the Coast Guard, Air Force, Army. Navy and state and local emergency responders.
Ultimately unsuccessful, the rescue effort was followed by nearly two weeks of searching by Air Force and Navy units. but no trace of Condiff had been found as of the end of last week. Officials have asked people using area beaches to watch for anything that might be associated with Condiff.
Two memorial services were held for Condiff, one at Hurlburt Field and the other in Richardson, Texas, the area where Condiff grew up.
The Hurlburt Field memorial was private, and the 24th Special Operations Wing, of which Condiff was a part, did not release any information on the event.
At the Texas memorial, Condiff’s father, Todd, remembered his son as “a loving and caring father, husband, brother, uncle and son,” according to a report from the 24th SOW’s public affairs office.
“(He) was taken a little too early for us,” Todd Condiff said, but he added that his son “died doing what he loved and he loved his brothers in the Air Force.”
In an interview shortly after initial reports of the incident involving his son, Todd Condiff said, “He was a good kid, he was a good man. He had a good heart.”
Condiff leaves behind a wife and two young daughters, whom the community has rallied around with household assistance and fundraising efforts. An online GoFundMe campaign remains active at https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-condiff-family. As of late last week, the campaign had raised more than $115,000 of its $200,000 goal.