HURLBURT FIELD — Air Force Special Operations Command will "see what lessons we need to learn" from what the Air Force is calling an airman’s "unplanned parachute departure" from a C-130 combat aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico near Hurlburt Field during a Nov. 5 parachute training mission, according to a recent Facebook post from AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. James Slife.


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The airman, 29-year-old Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff, a combat controller with the Hurlburt-based 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, is now missing and presumed deceased after falling into the Gulf of Mexico a couple of miles south of the base. His parachute accidentally deployed while he was inside the aircraft assisting other airmen with safety checks, according to his father, Todd Condiff.


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The Air Force has offered only limited comment on the incident, citing an ongoing internal investigation, but Condiff said Air Force officials have been open with him regarding the circumstances of his son’s accident.


After an intensive four-day search of the Gulf that in its early stages involved Coast Guard, Air Force and Army units and state and local law enforcement and emergency response agencies, the Coast Guard called off its search efforts Nov. 8. At one point, the search covered 700 square miles between Destin and Pensacola and stretched 30 miles into the Gulf.


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After the Coast Guard suspended its search, the Air Force and Navy began a recovery operation. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than two weeks after the incident, the recovery effort had found no reported trace of Condiff.


In his Facebook post, dated Nov. 9 — the day after the Coast Guard suspended its search — Slife, who took command of AFSOC in late June, described himself as "Broken hearted."


Slife went on to note that Condiff’s departure from the C-130 marks the second fatal training accident in Air Force Special Operations Command in the past two months.


On Oct. 8, 33-year-old pararescueman Tech. Sgt. Peter Kraines, like Condiff a part of the Hurlburt-based 24th Special Operations Wing, "died from injuries sustained in a training incident while performing mountain rescue techniques in Boise, Idaho ... ," according to a 24th SOW news release issued at the time.


"It’s a truism that the best way to keep Airmen alive in combat is to have high standards and train hard," Slife wrote in his Facebook post. "It’s also a truism that when you train hard, you’ll lose Airmen to training accidents. I hate the second part only slightly less than I hate the consequences of ignoring the first part."


Slife went on to express his pride in AFSOC personnel "for the professionalism, discipline, and relentless pursuit of excellence they display every day."


The AFSOC commander also acknowledged the tough circumstances of losing two Special Tactics airmen, but urged AFSOC personnel to continue their tough training regimen.


"We’ll grieve, we’ll see what lessons we need to learn," he wrote, "but we’ll be back at it just as hard. Anything less would dishonor those we’ve lost."


In other developments related to the ongoing Condiff recovery effort, local restaurants have been taking turns providing evening meals to the Navy personnel working in the Gulf, meeting them as their vessels come ashore in the evenings, according to Rob Reyes, owner of Stripes Pub & Grill in Navarre.


Reyes, one of the participating restaurateurs, is retired from the Air Force and was more than willing to help. Thus far, he has fed the Navy personnel with burritos, nachos and shepherd’s pies, he said, adding that he has told his chef "not to spare any expense" in feeding the few dozen sailors working in the recovery effort.


After 23 years in the Air Force, Reyes continues to feel a strong connection to the military and its personnel.


"I still look at it as. ’These are my brothers’, " Reyes said.


Among the other food service businesses participating in the effort are the Cactus Flower Cafe and Where Y’at Seafood Market in Navarre.


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Additionally, an online GoFundMe campaign aimed at helping Condiff’s wife and the couple’s two young daughters is continuing. The campaign, online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-condiff-family, had raised more than $105,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.


Initially established to raise $100,000, the campaign’s goal recently was increased to $200,000.


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