Army Spec. Nicholas D. Roberts, a native of Longwood, Florida, and a resident of Spring Lake, died in a parachute training accident at Fort Bragg’s Sicily Drop Zone, April 28, 2015. Roberts joined the 82nd Airborne Division following a stint in the U.S. Army Reserve. The Army Times this month revealed previously unreleased details of an investigation into the accident by the XVIII Airborne Corps. A Freedom of Information Act request forced the disclosure. 

Roberts wore a loaded rucksack and a modular weapons case during his first night-training jump. He had jumped six times before but never after dark. The weapon case struck the door of the plane as he jumped, causing him to spin during his exit. He died instantly when the static line struck his neck, according to the report. His inexperience was cited as a contributing factor to his death. His passing came 12 days after the death of another 82nd paratrooper, Pvt. Josh Phillips. His death also came during a night jump at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Coincidentally, it too was Phillips seventh jump.

Sgt. Richard Wheeler was one of Roberts’ friends. They served together, but lost touch when they went separate ways during deployments. 

“He enjoyed the Army, he enjoyed what he did” Wheeler told Up & Coming Weekly. “He always found a way to stay motivated,” Wheeler added.

In Roberts’ death, video and eyewitness accounts confirmed that because his weapon case was rigged too loosely, it was nearly horizontal. The Army Times quoted the next in line soldier whose name was redacted as saying “I observed Roberts rotating on the jump platform to his left. He ended up exiting backwards, facing toward me.” 

Roberts’ parachute opened normally, as his lifeless body descended to the ground. No one knew he had been killed until a search party found him about 20 minutes after he was determined to be missing.

The report said the rigging on the paratroopers’ weapon case was improper in that it had too much slack. The leg strap had not been tightened before the jump, which is standard procedure, The Army Times reported. (The investigation noted it’s common for soldiers to keep their leg straps loose for comfort, but that they’re supposed to be tightened when they stand in the door.)

The XVIII Airborne Corps investigative report cited the failure of jumpmasters to attend a mandatory pre-jump training session. The investigation found that the assigned team of jumpmasters had been told instead to meet with their commander, which is why they missed the required pre-jump briefing. The Deputy Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Brig. Gen. Brian Winski, “formally admonished” the jumpmaster team. The report did not indicate whether the commander was also admonished. An airfield control officer conducted the meeting in the jumpmasters’ absence. 

After the deaths of Roberts and Phillips, the XVIII Airborne Corps temporarily suspended all airborne operations. It adopted 15 directives including changes to the training progression of new airborne soldiers. 

The new directive states, “Paratroopers should not move on to subsequent stages of training unless their leaders deem them ready.” 

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