The parents of a Navy SEAL killed in a June 2014 parachute training accident are suing the manufacturer alleging defective design, negligence and wrongful death, in a case that involves equipment in wide use by U.S. special-operations units.
A Navy investigation found that Chief Petty Officer Bradley Cavner’s death was caused by a gust of wind prematurely deploying his reserve chute while he stood in an aircraft doorway, readying to jump.
Cavner, a 31-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who graduated from Coronado High, was swept out of the C-130 troop plane at 1,300 feet.
He hit his head on the plane’s door edge. The impact was so strong that it caused the aircraft to buck.
The Navy investigation — released Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request — said Cavner died instantly.
His parents, Steve and Beth Cavner, filed suit in San Diego federal court against Airborne Systems of North America CA, the international design and manufacturing company that made the chute.
The gear in question is the MC-6 personnel parachute system, a steerable chute used throughout U.S. Special Operations Command for dropping into war zones.
“We believe there was a defect in the way this was designed and that allowed it to flap open,” said David Casey, a San Diego attorney representing the Cavner family.
“At the end of the day, they’ll need to pull these parachutes and get a better design because they put our servicemen at risk,” Casey said.
Neither lawyers nor a spokeswoman for Airborne responded to a request for comment.
Casey said it was his understanding that the Navy still used the MC-6 parachutes but has changed procedure for airplane doors.
“The Naval Special Warfare community has always put the safety of its sailors above all else. While Chief Cavner’s death was a tragedy, it brought about important changes to our training programs that will hopefully prevent these types of incidents in the future,” Lt. j.g. Zach Keating said in a statement Friday.
Four other U.S service members have experienced the same issue with the parachute because of wind gusts, but none of those incidents was fatal, the Navy investigation found.
Those incidents, two in 2012 and two in 2013, were unknown to Naval Special Warfare before Cavner’s death, according to the Navy report.
However, instructors in Cavner’s course showed their students a YouTube video in which an Army parachutist’s reserve deployed unexpectedly. The instructors warned about exposure to wind.
Steele writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune