The two soldiers were killed at about 3.15pm on Tuesday afternoon when they were stuck by a falling tree “during a weather-induced training hold” on the mountain, located about 75 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, Georgia, an official told ABC 7.
Officials said all injured personnel were taken to a nearby hospital where Taber and Fitzgibbon were pronounced dead. Terry Stringfellow, a spokesperson for Fort Benning, said the two men died of their injuries.
Taber was as a medical sergeant assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and had been enlisted in the military since 2017, the Army said. Fitzgibbon was meanwhile assigned to a training unit at Fort Benning after graduating from the US Military Academy at West Point only last year.
The soldiers were part the US Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence based at Fort Benning and had been taking part in a two-month programme known as the Ranger School, which according to the Associated Press tests soldiers’ abilities to overcome difficulties such as fatigue, hunger and stress in rugged environments.
“We are all deeply saddened by the loss of these two outstanding Soldiers and send our heartfelt condolences to their families,” said Maj Gen Curtis A Buzzard, commanding general of Fort Benning and its Maneuver Center of Excellence, in a statement. “They are in our thoughts and prayers.”
West Point said in a statement remembering Fitzgibbon, that the class of 2021 cadet “was an incredible leader of character who exemplified Army values and the West Point ideals of Duty, Honor, and Country. The entire West Point Community and the Long Gray Line share in this loss and are keeping the Fitzgibbon and Taber families in our thoughts and prayers.”
The announcement of the two fatalities on Tuesday came after as a weather warning was issued for parts of northern Georgia, which was forecast to experience heavy rains and winds of up to 60mph, as Fox5 reported.
It is the second weather related incident involving US Army soldiers stationed in Georgia in recent weeks following the death of a solider at Fort Gordon on 20 July in a lightning strike. Nine other soldiers were injured in that strike.
“Those who volunteer to attend Ranger School represent the very best of our military,” said Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade Commander Col Christopher C Hammonds of the Yonah mountain deaths. “This loss resonates across our Army and across our nation.”