USAF Calls Off Search for Missing Airman off Florida
Three weeks after a U.S. Air Force special tactics airman experienced an "unplanned parachute departure" from a C-130 aircraft during a training exercise off Hurlburt Field, Florida, the recovery search for his remains has ended.
Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff, a special tactics combat controller and a member of the U.S. Air Force's elite 24th Special Operations Wing, accidentally exited the aircraft during a planned static-line jump training on November 5. He made an "unintentional water landing" about two nautical miles off the coast of Destin, Florida, according to the Air Force.
An Air Force servicemember called 911 to report the incident, prompting a multi-agency search and rescue operation. The team included aerial and waterborne assets from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Eglin AFB 96th Test Wing, the 1st Special Operations Wing, the U.S. Army's 7th Special Forces Group, and state and local authorities.
911 call records reviewed by local media in Jacksonville indicate that airborne search crews spotted Sgt. Condiff in the water at least one time in the hours after the accident. Contact was lost later in the day. In the days that followed, the search team scoured about 700 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico between Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola.
The U.S. Coast Guard ended its participation in the search on the evening of November 8, and the USAF transitioned to a search and recovery effort. Col. Matt Allen, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, said that the Air Force would continue its search “as long as circumstances and resources allow to bring our airman home.”
The search and recovery effort was exceptionally well-resourced. The U.S. Navy's Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Group 2 and Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City joined the recovery search, along with additional Air Force units. The team used sonar scanning, land patrols, airborne surveillance and dive teams, and divers conducted over 100 subsurface searches throughout the area. The effort ultimately came to a close on Saturday.
“While this is a time of great loss across our organization, I am incredibly grateful for the response of our joint teammates, local agencies and community partners who rallied for 17 straight days,” Col. Allen said. “Although no substitute for bringing him home, I hope the commitment and resolve on display over the last few weeks provides a small measure of comfort for Cole’s loved ones."
The Air Force has asked the broader maritime community to watch for Sgt. Condiff's parachute and other equipment when transiting the vicinity of the search area.