Safety failings as UK soldier fell to death in parachute training

Steven Morris
Soldier Ali Woodford, who died parachuting after he and another jumper collided mid air. Photograph:

A British soldier taking part in his first day of parachute jumping died after becoming entangled with another novice, an inquest heard.

Lance Corporal Ali Woodford, 26, collided with his colleague and plunged to the ground after his reserve parachute failed to open fully.

A report on the incident revealed a catalogue of failures and concluded Woodford’s death may have been avoidable. The report said Woodford and his colleagues had not been told what to do if they became entangled and said there was a complacent attitude to safety. It made 48 recommendations and 389 observations about good practice.

The inquest in Taunton, Somerset, was told that Woodford, who had served in Afghanistan, was on the first practical day of a parachute course at the Rhine Army Parachute Association’s base in Bad Lippspringe, Germany.

The married father of one, from North Petherton, Somerset, was one of 14 service personnel learning how to parachute and was on the third jump of the day, leaping from 1,160m (3,800ft).

Woodford, a member of 1st Battalion The Rifles, collided with the other man, known only as Student A, at around 235m (780ft). They remained entangled for eight seconds before they managed to cut away their main parachutes and released their reserves.

Woodford plunged to the ground and suffered multiple injuries. Student A survived even though his reserve was activated after Woodford’s.

Senior Somerset coroner Tony Williams said the report on the incident “pulled no punches over the governance of the site”.

He said there were conflicting orders from instructors. Student A had jumped 15 seconds before Woodford and they completed a number of turns. Woodford was told to head towards a control tower while Student A was ordered to steer towards a golf course.

But the coroner said: “That put them on a converging flight path.” The chief instructor said “oh shit” when they collided.

Williams added: “They did not have any training or experience to deal with entanglement or collision.”

According to the official report, the men did not see each other before the collision. It also said they were not trained in how to deal with entanglement and what minimum height to cut away their main chutes.

The coroner said a report by Air Marshal Sir Richard Garwood concluded there was a “catalogue of safety shortcomings” at the base. He said there was an “unengaged safety culture” and said the lack of collision training had been because they did not want to “overload the students”. But he added there was “poor safety management” and a “complacent attitude”.

The coroner concluded that Woodford’s death in September 2015 was an accident.

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