Local News

Soldier used new parachute model in fatal jump

Posted June 28, 2011 3:17 p.m. EDT
Updated June 28, 2011 5:51 p.m. EDT

— An 82nd Airborne paratrooper who died during a weekend training operation at Fort Bragg was using a new style of parachute, military officials said Tuesday.

Staff Sgt. Jamal Clay, 25, of Elida, Ohio, fell 800 feet to his death late Saturday when his parachute malfunctioned and didn't open, officials said. The Army has declined to provide more details about the incident, which remains under investigation by the 82nd Airborne and the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center.

Clay was using a a T-11 parachute, which Fort Bragg began using in 2009. The canopy of the parachute is square for a slower, more controlled descent than the round-canopy T-10 parachutes that the Army previously used.

Officials said Clay had used T-11 parachutes in two previous jumps. He had parachuted more than two dozen times during his seven years in the Army.

Lt. Col. Dave Connelly, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, said it's premature to question the new parachute's safety based on one incident.

"Jumping out of an airplane is an inherently dangerous thing to do," Connelly said. "We go through extraordinary measures to mitigate and identify any risks associated with an airborne operation."

Parachuting deaths are rare at Fort Bragg.

The last occurred in 2006, when Capt. Nathaniel King hit his head after landing and died the next day.

In 2001, Staff Sgt. Alexander Gessner, an 82nd Airborne jumpmaster, died after his reserve parachute deployed inside a C-130 plane and forced him out the door during a nighttime jump. An investigation found that he failed to maintain a proper position in the open door of the plane.

The last death at Fort Bragg blamed on a parachute malfunction was in 1999.

About 1,700 paratroopers were involved in Saturday night's training jump. The exercise was suspended after Clay's death, officials said, but jumps resumed Sunday.

Clay was a vehicle recovery supervisor with Company G, 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

He deployed to Iraq in 2006 and 2008, and officials described him as a role model for his battalion.

Clay is survived by his wife, Jasmine Clay, and two children, Jamier Brown, 6, and Janye McKenzie, 2.

The 82nd Airborne plans to hold a memorial service for him at 11 a.m. Wednesday.