Despite the inherent danger of jumping out of a plane high above the ground, the Marine parachute program had very few accidents. That may have been due in part to the system initially used to prepare the parachutes. From the very first training class, the Corps set the standard that each jumper would pack his own parachute. In addition, a trained rigger supervised the task and had to sign his name on the tag before the parachute was certified for use. (Later this procedure was dropped and riggers packed all parachutes for use in the FMF, but by that time Marines were making very few jumps.) The record indicates only one Marine accident that may have involved a malfunctioning parachute. During training on New Caledonia one man's main parachute failed to open properly. He pulled the ripcord on his reserve, but it just had time to begin deploying when he hit the ground. Observers thought, however, that the main parachute did not deploy because the suspension lines tangled up in the Marine's rifle.
Three other men died in Marine Corps jumping accidents not related to the performance of the parachute. Two men drowned after landing in water; one at Norfolk, Virginia, and one at New River, North Carolina. The final fatality occurred when a New River trainee lost his nerve just as he approached the door of the plane. He moved out of the line of jumpers, but his static line became tangled with the next man to go out. The non-jumper's parachute opened while he was inside the plane and the billowing chute slammed him against the aircraft body hard enough to wreck the door and sever his spine.
The most unusual accident occurred near San Diego, California, on 15 May 1941. Second Lieutenant Walter A. Osipoff and 11 enlisted men of Company A were making a practice jump over Kearney Mesa. Everyone else had exited the plane and he threw out a cargo pack, which possibly tangled in his static line. His parachute opened prematurely while he was still in the door of the plane; it billowed outside the aircraft and pulled him out, but the canopy and suspension lines tangled in the bundle of static lines streaming beside the transport. For a moment the cargo pack, Osipoff and his partially opened parachute were all suspended from the cable that held the static lines. Under this combined load the bracket holding one end of the cable gave way and it streamed out the door. The cargo pack fell away, but Osipoff and his parachute remained dangling from the cable and static lines, suspended behind the plane's tail. The accident also mined his reserve chute and ripped away the part of his harness attached to his chest. He ended up being dragged through the air feet-first, held only by the leg straps.
The crew of the plane attempted to pull him in but could not do so. Since the transport had no radio communications, the pilot flew it over the field at North Island to attract attention. Two Navy test pilots, Lieutenant William W. Lowery and Aviation Chief Machinist's Mate John R. McCants, saw the problem and took off in a SOC-1, an open-cockpit, two-seater biplane. The SOC-1 flew just below and behind the transport while McCants attempted to pull Osipoff into his cockpit. It was an incredible display of flying skill given the necessity to avoid hitting the Marine lieutenant with the SOC-1's propellers. McCants finally succeeded in getting him head first into the plane, though his legs dangled outside. Before McCants could cut the shroud lines, bumpy air pushed the biplane up and its propellers did the job (chopping off 12 inches of the tail cone of the transport in the process). Lowery landed his aircraft as McCants maintained his tenuous grip on the Marine parachutist.
Osipoff suffered severe cuts and bruises and a fractured vertebra. He spent three months in a body cast, but fully recovered and returned to jump status. Lowery and McCants received Distinguished Flying Crosses for their successful rescue.
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952 (Plt #437)--'72
GyG's Globe and Anchor! --Sites & Forums
GyG's Old Salt Marines Tavern ~Interactive~
Gunny G's Globe and Anchor Weblog
~SITES/FORUMS FOR THE THINKING MARINE!~