The search for a missing Hurlburt Field airman who fell out of a four-engine C-130 transport aircraft and into the Gulf of Mexico during parachute training on Tuesday is continuing, according to the 24th Special Operations Wing. Meanwhile, an Air Force investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident is proceeding under established Air Force rules.
HURLBURT FIELD — As a search across a wide swath of the Gulf of Mexico continues, the Air Force has no immediate plans to release the name of the airman who fell out of a C-130 transport aircraft over the gulf on Tuesday a couple of miles south of Hurlburt Field.
“To respect the privacy of the airman, family, and teammates of the individual, we will not be releasing the name until further notice,” Capt. Jaclyn Pienkowski, public affairs officer for the 24th Special Operations Wing headquartered at Hurlburt Field, wrote in an email responding to questions about the ongoing search efforts.
“Focusing on these efforts and taking care of the Airman’s family is our highest priority at this time,” Pienkowski wrote.
The airman, a member of the 24th SOW, fell out of the aircraft shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday, during what the 24th SOW said was “a planned static-line jump as part of a training event.”
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The search for the missing airman has expanded significantly since Tuesday, and now covers an area from Destin to Pensacola extending nearly 30 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.
A number of Air Force, Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) assets and personnel, along with other military and government emergency response agencies, remained involved or available for the search as of Friday.
Asked via email Friday whether the Air Force, which has consistently referred to the effort to find the airman as a search, would at any time be re-characterizing it as a recovery operation, Pienkowski reiterated an earlier statement from the 24th SOW.
“We continue to assess the situation and will search for as long as the circumstances and resources allow,” she wrote. “... As long as conditions have allowed us, it has been a 24 hour, 7 day operation.”
On Friday, circumstances affecting the search included weather and sea conditions that kept FWC personnel and their boats out of the Gulf of Mexico, according to the agency’s Officer Robert Ramos, FWC spokesman for Northwest Florida.
“It’s blowing really rough out there,” Ramos said early Friday afternoon.
However, Ramos added, FWC personnel were patrolling the shoreline looking for signs of the missing airman. The Coast Guard is operating larger boats than the FWC, vessels that would not be affected by Friday’s weather, Ramos explained.
Coast Guard assets working in the search on Friday included two 45-foot response boats from Station Destin, the cutter Benjamin Dailey and a helicopter, according to Petty Officer Sydney Phoenix in the Eighth Coast Guard District Public Affairs Office.
Overall, the personnel and assets initially involved in the search remain available, but all of them may not be operating at any given time, according to Pienkowski.
“This is a joint effort with federal, DoD (Department of Defense), local and state agencies,” Pienkowskit said via email. “All our partner agencies ... continue to assist, but the assets operating at any given time fluctuate based on the conditions and needs.”
Pienkowski took time Friday to express appreciation for all of the assistance made available to the 24th SOW.
“We are incredibly thankful for all joint, state, and local partners who have been exceptionally helpful throughout our search and rescue efforts,” she wrote.
Even as the search continues, the Air Force is pursuing an investigation into the circumstances that led to the airman’s fall.
“The Air Force has procedures for reviewing incidents from a safety perspective and we are following those procedures ... ,” Pienkowski said in the Friday email.