Accident report released on fatal parachute jump

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --

An Air Force Materiel Command Accident Investigation Board has identified the cause of a mishap which resulted in the death of an Air Force non-commissioned officer during a military freefall training parachute jump on Sept. 10, 2019 at Skydive Perris, in Perris, California.

Staff Sgt. Adam K. Erickson, a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist with the 412th Operations Support Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California, sustained non-survivable injuries during the training jump in conjunction with his official duties as a member of the Test Parachutist Program.  He was a master parachutist with 346 total jumps, and had a distinguished service record which included two combat deployments.

It was the mishap parachutist’s second jump of the day from a civilian De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter Aircraft at Skydive Perris. He and his teammates were conducting routine parachute proficiency training. The mishap parachutist was using a highly-maneuverable Advanced Parachute System with a Performance Design Sabre2-170 canopy. 

The Accident Investigation Board president found Erickson over controlled his parachute system, which induced a stall and collapsed his canopy at an altitude too low to recover.

The Board President identified two factors as substantial contributors to the mishap. First was “inadequate real-time assessment” of risk during final approach, when Erickson recognized he was at a higher altitude than planned for his desired landing point and elected to use braking to increase his rate of descent without sufficient altitude to recover to a fully inflated canopy. Second was fixation. The jumper was focused on landing at the desired point, to the exclusion of recognizing he was too low to use a full break input. 

The Board President also noted Erickson used a parachute configuration with a high wing load and the squadron supervision was unaware of the risks of stepping down to smaller parachute sizes.  

Wing load refers to a ratio of the suspended weight of the parachutist and carried equipment in pounds, relative to the size of the parachute canopy in square feet.  Parachute operations with higher wing loading are more responsive and sensitive to jumper control inputs, and have a smaller margin for error.

The aircraft and weather were determined not to be factors in the mishap and there was no equipment malfunction. 

Brig Gen Paul E. Knapp served as the Accident Investigation Board President.  The primary purpose of the board was to investigate the cause and contributing factors of the mishap and provide a publicly releasable report of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident.

 The AIB report is available at /Portals/13/USAF%20Accident%20Investigation%20Board%20-%20412th%20Test%20Wing.pdf.

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