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Paratrooper Dies During Training Exercise at Fort Bragg

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FORT BRAGG — A team of Army investigators is heading to Fort Bragg to determine how a soldier died after jumping from a training tower.

Specialist Michael R. Phalen, 21, of Zanesville, Ohio died of severe chest trauma Wednesday afternoon about five hours after the jump.

The 34-foot-tall tower is used to simulate exits from airplanes. Soldiers are hooked to a harness and jump from a platform while suspended from a cable as they descend.

"In 20-plus years of doing this here, I have never heard of anyone being seriously injured, much less a fatality," says Fort Bragg spokesman Jim Hinnant.

The towers are considered so safe that veterans, VIPs and military family members often jump from the towers during supervised special events.

Soldiers say that they take the practices from the tower very seriously.

"We check on static lines. We check our risers," says Sgt. Ricardo Munoz. "We check our equipment -- the way it is hooked on."

A military safety team from Alabama will look closely at the equipment. Although the tower equipment is inspected four times a year, it appears Phalen's suspension harness snapped, causing him to fall to his death.

Fellow soldiers call the incident a freak accident.

"It was just an accident," says soldier Ivan Shelton. "Things happen. I would do it again."

Military officials hope to have the findings from the safety team in three months. Phalen is survived by his wife and their eight-month-old baby.

Training on Fort Bragg's two 34-foot towers has been suspended until further notice.