Aug 31, 2001, 9:23 AM
Post #2 of 5
Re: Special Ops Training Demo Jump Mishap
[In reply to]
From the Tampa Tribune:
Navy Parachutist Dies At Stadium By GEOFF DUTTON email@example.com
TAMPA - A veteran military parachutist based at MacDill Air Force Base died Thursday after crash-landing at Raymond James Stadium while practicing an exhibition routine.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rock E. Blais, 40, suffered a broken leg and internal injuries, emergency officials said. He was treated at the scene and taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he died at 12:41 p.m.
Blais was one of four members of a crack U.S. Special Operations team who jumped from a plane about noon. Their parachutes snapped open, and they began a graceful and spiraling decent to the field.
Mike Davis, a stadium employee of 26 years, had witnessed the spectacle often but couldn't resist watching the blue and yellow parachutes glide down again.
The first parachutist touched down at the 40-yard line and ``came in picture-perfect,'' Davis said.
Blais, the second parachutist, seemed ready to do the same but suddenly faltered, spun and plunged about 50 feet to the turf, landing in the north end zone.
``I guess he was trying to recover, and he spun to the ground,'' said Davis, the director of stadium operations. ``It happened very quickly.''
Blais, a second-generation Navy SEAL, joined the Special Operations Command unit in May 2000 and had logged more than 1,000 high-altitude, free- fall jumps. He joined the Navy in 1988.
He is survived by his widow, father and two children.
The Special Operations Command, known as SOCOM, is an elite group of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and U.S. government civilians that runs U.S. commando operations.
The parachuting team, formed in 1991, is based at MacDill Air Force Base and practices at the stadium regularly for appearances at professional football and soccer games.
The parachuting team canceled training exercises and exhibitions pending an accident investigation.
It was the team's first fatality during a routine.
In 1991, however, a member was killed while giving lessons to an inexperienced jumper in Zephyrhills. Army Sgt. Maj. Santos Alfredo, a Green Beret who was moonlighting as a parachuting instructor, and his student, Lynn Sommerfeld, plunged to their deaths when the parachute failed to open during a tandem jump.
About a dozen people who work at the stadium saw Thursday's accident from the field. A crew of caterers setting up for an event also looked on from the press box.
Craig Bergeron, a supervisor for Fine Host Corp., said Blais landed feet-first and bounced forward, hitting his head.
``Everybody freaked,'' Bergeron said.
Other witnesses told rescuers Blais' rainbow-shaped parachute partially collapsed when he seemed to dip the chute to slow down.
Reporter Geoff Dutton can be reached at (813) 259-7800. Reporter George Coryell contributed to this story.