The mishap happened when Chief Special Warfare Operator Michael T. Ernst was participating in parachute training at an airfield in Marana, which is northwest of Tucson, according to Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif. Ernst, who was assigned to an East Coast-based naval special warfare unit, was taken to Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix and was pronounced dead shortly after 2 p.m., command officials said in a statement.
“The Navy is investigating the cause of the incident,” command officials said. “It would be inappropriate to comment further on the ongoing investigation until complete.”
Ernst, a native of Massachusetts, enlisted in the Navy in August 2009 and, following completion of special-operations training, joined his first operational naval special warfare unit in 2012, according to Navy Personnel Command.
Among the personal military awards and decorations that Ernst received throughout his career is a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest for valor in combat. Others he received include the Joint Commendation Medal (with Combat Device), Army Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (3 awards), Army Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (3 awards), and the NATO Medal.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ernst family,” Rear Adm. Keith Davids, who heads Naval Special Warfare Command, said in the statement. “Mike was an exceptional teammate. He was a dedicated NSW Sailor who applied his talents and skills towards some of our nation’s hardest challenges, while selflessly mentoring his teammates. Mike and his family will always be part of the NSW family, and he will never be forgotten.”
The fatal accident is the first parachuting mishap in nearly six years to claim the life of a Navy SEAL, according to reports.
In May 2017, Special Operator 1st Class Remington Peters, 27, a SEAL and member of the Leap Frogs parachute demonstration team, died after a mishap while parachuting in New York City and falling into the harbor near the Statue of Liberty during Fleet Week activities.
In March 2015, Special Warfare Operator 3rd Class Jason Kortz, 29, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., while training at a private airfield in Perris, Calif. Two months earlier, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class William Blake Marston, 31, of Concord, N.H., was fatally injured in a hard landing during a training jump in Deland, Fla.
In June 2014, Chief Special Warfare Operator Bradley S. Cavner, 31, of Coronado died in a parachute training accident in El Centro, Calif. In March 2013, Chief Special Warfare Operator Brett Shadle 31,of Elizabethville, Pa., was killed when he collided with another SEAL parachutist during a military free-fall training jump in Marana.
Also, while it wasn’t part of military training, a veteran SEAL combat officer, Cmdr. Seth A. Stone, 41, died in September 2017 after parachuting from a hot-air balloon during a recreational jump in Perris, Calif.