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Video Shows US Army Paratrooper Free Falling After Parachute Fails, With Reserve Inflating Seconds Before Landing 

“This kid did all the right things.”

A US Army paratrooper was seen free falling through the air for 15 heart-stopping seconds after his parachute failed. In the incident caught on video, the man can be seen struggling, and finally inflating his reserve chute seconds before he would have hit the ground. "That reserve parachute takes about 400 feet to open, and so that's a pretty substantial amount of time when you are coming to the ground as quick as that person was. There's a reason they call this hazardous duty," says St. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger, a former freefall instructor with the Army, according to Task & Purpose. Here's what happened.

Routine Training


Video of the incident shows what looks like a routine airborne jump from a C-17 aircraft, with the paratroopers in question drifting towards the ground at 19 feet per second. Square-shaped T-11 advanced tactical parachutes were being used for the training exercise, which appears to be taking place in the Juliet DZ.

Parachute Panic


All the paratroopers except one had functional parachutes: The video shows the man free falling as he tried to engage his chute, finally activating the reserve parachute seconds before he would have hit the ground. "We train every single time to a meticulous level of detail with these paratroopers to make sure that they do the right thing, every single time," says Master Sgt. Alex Burnett, a spokesman with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Burnett has 43 jumps under his belt after serving in the Airborne for six years.

All the Training Pays Off


"This kid did all the right things," says Burnett. "When he realized he was falling faster and acknowledges what's going on, he did exactly what he was trained to do: He activated that reserve and made sure he landed to the ground safely." According to Burnett, every soldier goes through training where every possible outcome is covered "from start to finish." All paratroopers must also complete the Army's three-week Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.

A Perfect Jump


According to Burnett, paratroopers must practice every single movement made from the moment they leave the plane to landing on the ground. "Sustained airborne training starts with what's called pre-jump. The first part of pre-jump is literally going through what we call the five points of performance," he says. "There's something called a spreader that's attached to the suspension lines and it catches air as well and slowly starts to move down the suspension lines and that's when you know that your parachute is fully open. That's when the paratrooper looks up and makes sure that his canopy is completely deployed. Once the canopy's open, obviously there's an element of situational awareness that comes with that."

Scary, But Not Common


Burnett insists that while parachute failure is scary, it's not common. "That's exactly what happened to me back in August," he says. "I miss-stepped when I exited the aircraft and began tumbling in the air as I came out, so my canopy was twisted up. I saw that I was falling very very fast, so I immediately activated my reserve and 'boom' it caught air and I landed safely… I'll speak for myself personally, if I looked up and I saw my chute not open, for me on a scale of 1-10 I would say that is definitely a nine, as far as 'oh man, I'm scared'. I wouldn't say it's something that happens every single jump, but when it does happen it's just good to know that they know what they're doing."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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