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Off-duty Navy SEAL dies in Perris skydiving accident

Navy SEAL Cmdr. Seth Stone, shown in a 2008 promotion ceremony, died Saturday in a skydiving accident in Perris.
(Spc. Michelle L. Kapica / U.S. Navy)

A highly decorated Navy SEAL was killed in an off-duty skydiving accident on Saturday, authorities said.

The SEAL, Cmdr. Seth Stone, died after jumping out of a hot air balloon over Perris in Riverside County. The Federal Aviation Administration said his parachute failed to open properly and the agency is investigating.

Stone, 41, of Texas, was most recently assigned to Special Operations Command Pacific in Hawaii, a unit that receives Navy personnel from the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego.

“The Naval Special Warfare community is deeply saddened and mourns the tragic loss of one of our best. Seth’s absence will be sorely felt across the staff, command and the entire special operations community. NSW is a close-knit family and our primary focus is to provide care and support for Cmdr. Stone’s family,” said Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command.

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Stone earned two silver Silver Stars, the military’s fifth-highest commendation, including one for a well known firefight in Ramadi, Iraq. On Sept. 29, 2006, Stone and the group of SEALs under his charge were attacked with small-arms fire and rockets while they were protecting another unit.

“The mortar fire, machine gun fire randomly sprayed the patrol, who were contacted by the enemy about 75% of the time,” Stone told National Public Radio in 2008.

According to the citation for the medal, Stone led his unit through the firefight to reach wounded SEALs and evacuate them.

One SEAL under Stone’s command, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on top of an enemy grenade, sacrificing his own life to save others.

“He recognized immediately the threat, yelled grenade, and due to the fact that two other SEAL snipers, our brothers, could not possibly escape the blast, he chose to smother it with his body and absorb the impact and save the guys to his left,” Stone told NPR.

Stone, who died one day after the 10th anniversary of Monsoor’s death, was on an adjacent rooftop during that battle and later said the petty officer’s bravery inspired him to re-enlist after the end of that deployment.

Stone also received a Bronze Star with a “V” insignia for valor and the Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal. Commissioned through the Naval Academy in 1999, he was a surface warfare officer and was assigned to a cruiser before he trained to become a SEAL.

The FAA said it typically looks into whether parachutes were properly packed when it investigates skydiving accidents that occur during skydiving. The inquiry is being handled by civilian authorities since it occurred while Stone was off-duty.

The United States Parachute Assn. held the National Skydiving Championship in Perris over the last two weeks, but the accident was not related to that event, the organization said.

Joshua Stewart writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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