Benning probes Airborne death

Funeral for Master Sgt. Matthew A. Ritz on Friday

mwalsh@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 30, 2005 

As the investigation into the Airborne training death of Master Sgt. Matthew A. Ritz continues, the funeral for the Allentown, Pa., native is scheduled for Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Ritz, 33, died the day before Thanksgiving from severe head injuries suffered Nov. 22.

Stationed with the 289th Military Police Company at Fort Myer, Va., best known throughout the military as the "Old Guard," Ritz was making his fifth jump of the week when the accident occurred on the Fryar Drop Zone in Alabama.

He was in his third and final week of Airborne school.

Fort Benning spokesperson Elsie Jackson said Tuesday that safety inspectors from the Army's Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., are investigating the cause of the accident.

"Witnesses say his canopy opened properly after exiting the aircraft," Jackson said. "The injury apparently came during the landing," she said. He was immediately evacuated to The Medical Center in Columbus, where he died from head trauma.

All other jumpers landed safely and reported no problems.

The fatality was the second this year involving students in the Airborne school. Pfc. Megan Adelman, 19, of Alliance, Ohio, died in January while attempting the second of five required jumps in the Airborne course.

Adelman's death was the first since 1990, when two Airborne students died within 15 days of one another. Both of those accidents were caused by parachute malfunction. During that 15-year time frame, approximately 200,000 soldiers completed 1 million jumps without a fatality.

Ritz was born in Allentown in 1972 and joined the service shortly after graduating from Whitehall High School in 1990.

Survivors include his wife of 12 years, Marcia, of Fort Belvoir, Va.; and their three children --- Michael, Kyle and Hailey.

A memorial service for Ritz will be held at the Fort Myer chapel later today, said Sgt. Patrick Malone of the Old Guard Public Affairs Office.

He explained that the elements of The Old Guard include the U.S. Army Drill Team, the Presidential Guns Salute Battery, the Tomb Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the Caisson Platoon.

Several of Ritz's friends from the "Old Guard" will have active roles at his funeral.

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