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Fort Bragg paratrooper who died in airborne training accident was using newer parachute

The Fort Bragg paratrooper who died Friday during an airborne training exercise was using a newer parachute that has proven safer than its earlier counterpart, officials said.

Soldiers using the T-11 parachute are less likely to be injured than those using the older T-10D, according to an Army study of Fort Bragg airborne operations.

Despite its record, the T-11 now has been associated with at least two fatal falls since it was introduced on Fort Bragg in 2009. One other death took place with a third, less common type of parachute during that time span.

The latest death occurred at Holland Drop Zone when Sgt. Shaina B. Schmigel, a soldier with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, was killed during a training exercise.

The cause of Schmigel's death is under investigation, and officials have not said if the parachute played a role.

In 2011, the Army suspended the use of the T-11 after a training death on Fort Bragg.

Sgt. Jamal Clay, a soldier with the 82nd Airborne's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, fell to his death when his T-11 parachute malfunctioned in June of that year. Army officials said Clay did not activate his reserve parachute, and a safety investigation board determined the T-11 failed because of debris within the parachute and improper packing.

The T-11 was reintroduced in March 2012, with Fort Bragg's then-commander, Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, being the first to use the parachute to show leaders' confidence.

Schmigel was using the T-11 parachute, which replaced the T-10D parachute that had been used by airborne forces since 1952.

Compared with the T-10D, injuries were 43 percent less likely to occur with the T-11, according to a study by the U.S. Army Public Health Command.

Officials with the command based at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, collected data on injured jumpers from drop zones and from medical records.

It was the third study that compared the two types of parachutes, with all three finding that the T-11 resulted in fewer injuries.

The latest study, which analyzed data from more than 130,000 jumps, took place from June 2010 to November 2013, with most data coming from Fort Bragg's drop zones.

The study, released in February, looked at 1,101 injuries and found that soldiers were injured on average 8.4 times per 1,000 jumps.

Most of those injuries — about 88 percent — were associated with ground impact, but were less common with the newer parachutes.

Paratroopers using the T-10D were injured 9.1 times per 1,000 jumps, according to the study. Injuries occurred 5.2 times per 1,000 jumps in the T-11.

Other factors that made jumps more dangerous include jumping at night, carrying a full combat load or jumping in higher winds or higher temperatures.

Controlling for those factors, the Army study found the T-11 still was safer for every category except entanglements.

The risks of entanglement and injury from entanglement were higher with the T-11, according to officials, but the incidents were rare, regardless of the parachute.

Entanglements occurred in .51 per 1,000 jumps in the T-11 and .22 per 1,000 jumps in the T-10D.

Armywide, parachuting injuries are the sixth leading cause of hospitalizations among active-duty soldiers, officials said.

But injury rates have improved over the decades.

During World War II, there were 21 to 27 injuries per 1,000 jumps, according to officials. The 82nd Airborne's historical injury rate is 11 per 1,000 jumps.

The most common injuries on Fort Bragg over the 31/2 year study were concussions, ankle sprains and lower back sprains, with concussions making up more than a third of all injuries.

Fractured or broken bones accounted for about 13percent of all injuries.

The T-11 was developed over several years in response to a need for Army parachutes to carry heavier loads.

The T-10D held a maximum weight of 350 pounds and was developed during a time when the average load of a soldier and his equipment was 300 pounds, according to officials.

By 1989, when paratroopers jumped into Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, 4 percent of all paratroopers carried more than 350 pounds.

More than a decade later, during combat jumps into Iraq and Afghanistan, paratrooper loads averaged between 327 and 380 pounds.

The T-11, which began replacing the T-10D in 2010, can hold 400-pound loads.

The parachute also causes a slower decent, with paratroopers falling an average of 19 feet per second, compared with 22 feet per second in the T-10D.

brooksd@fayobserver.com

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