A parachute training accident that claimed the life of a 19-year-old Airborne student at Fort Benning will be investigated by the Army Safety Center in Fort Rucker, Ala., and officials at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, a post spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Monica Manganaro, a public affairs spokeswoman, said Pvt. Mario Jekov was in the third week of the three-week training with the 1st Battalion, 507th Infantry Regiment.
The fatal accident on Tuesday was the first since 2005 at the post that trains 14,000 to 18,000 Airborne students each year.
“We have been very fortunate in having a successful, safe track record,” Manganaro said. “Obviously, we will conduct a thorough investigation into the cause, but at this time there is no indication of an equipment problem.”
About 350 Airborne students were jumping from a C-130 aircraft at the Fryar Drop Zone on the Alabama side of the post, Manganaro said. Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan said another student accidentally went under the solider’s parachute and took the wind out of it about 2:15 p.m. The soldier fell between 120 feet and 150 feet.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Jekov was taken to Midtown Medical Center (formerly The Medical Center) where he was pronounced dead from injuries. He had entered the Army in March as a supply specialist, where he attended the enlisted language course at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
He completed basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., then went to Fort Lee, Va., for advanced training. He had just arrived at Fort Benning in September.
"This is a tragic loss," said Col. Kyle E. Lear, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. "Since Pvt. Jekov came into the Army, this young soldier showed dedication and selfless service, as evidenced in the many courses he successfully completed in such a short time. We are truly saddened to lose a member of our Army family and a soldier with such potential."
It is standard procedure for the Army Safety Center to investigate any time there is a training related death, Manganaro said.
While Airborne training at Fort Benning has a tremendous safety record, Manganaro said, it is inherently dangerous.
“The Airborne School teaches a soldier to trust in their training, trust in their equipment and have confidence in their abilities to safely jump out of an aircraft and land as they have been taught,” she said. “That is what we emphasize.”
Two previous Airborne deaths in 2005 include Pfc. Megan Adelman, in January, and Master Sgt. Matthew A. Ritz, in November. Adelman’s parachute did not open and Ritz died a day after he was injured during a hard landing.
Manganaro said Tuesday’s death is a terrible tragedy.
“Every time we lose a soldier, it’s deeply felt,” she said.
Parachute training resumed on Wednesday at Fort Benning.