Some members of the 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron had grown bored after two days of classroom instruction to prepare them for future deployments and exercises. But leadership hoped the final day of the four-day exercise at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, would capture their attention.
The day called for real-life training: an "attack" on the exercise compound in the morning and the "capture" of a squadron member in the afternoon.
The deviation proved fatal.
With the engine running for a quick escape, the driver and three passengers got out. Among them: Staff Sgt. Timothy Wright, a 30-year-old aeromedical evacuation technician who was playing the part of the hostage, his hands and mouth loosely bound with duct tape.
When a brief attempt at negotiations failed, Wright was marched back to the Humvee and "executed" by the two other passengers.
Playing his part, Wright fell forward about five or 10 feet in front of the vehicle. He was struck by the Humvee as it left the compound.
Despite immediate life-saving measures by nurses and trained flight medical technicians who were already on scene for the exercise, Wright died at a hospital a short time later.
The driver, whose name was redacted from the report, "may have focused his conscious attention on certain cues to the exclusion of others, leading to an unsafe situation," according to a news release from Air Mobility Command. There was also a "lack of understanding of changes to the exercise scenario; insufficient time to adequately plan those changes; and an inadequate risk management assessment," it stated.
The four-day exercise was part of the 43rd AES's routine training to remain ready to conduct aeromedical evacuations around the world -- from war zones to areas wracked by natural disaster.
Planning for the July training event had begun months earlier by two trainers whose names were also redacted from the report. Identified only as OS1 and OS2 -- observer/controller trainers -- they developed the exercise with input from other members of the training flight.
Both were inexperienced; OS1 had just been promoted to captain and this was his first time planning a military exercise. OS2 "did not have prior personal experience developing an exercise," the report said.
Then at 7:30 a.m. on the day of the accident, the lead trainer met with the commander "to ask if she wanted to exercise any particular scenarios or capabilities on the last day of the exercise."
The commander said she wanted to see a capture scenario that would result in the "accountability of personnel."
Air Force guidance advised against deviating from approved scenario events, investigators wrote. And squadron members were not required to train for such a situation as the one that was now underway.
"While expected skills include basic force protection, they do not extend into hostage situations or direct negotiations with oppositional forces," according to the report.
The airman who drove the Humvee was a 12-year Air Force veteran with experience operating such vehicles, the report found. But the circumstances of what transpired "may indicate channelized attention" during the scenario.
While members of the 43rd were privy to several safety briefings before and during the exercise, no one was designated an overall safety monitor for the scenario.
Further, there was confusion between the driver and passengers about what certain safety signals meant as well as who was supposed to act as a "spotter."
And while the training team covered with the driver a number of specifics about the scenario -- including how Wright should get in and out of the vehicle and how he should act as a hostage -- they did not talk about how the Humvee would exit the compound or the risks of "having an immobile person on the ground near a moving vehicle," the report said.
The driver and the two remaining Humvee passengers could not explain how they struck Wright, telling investigators they thought they were clear of him. When they heard the impact, they thought they must have run over a piece of equipment.
It was only after they saw the reactions of witnesses outside the Humvee that they realized what had happened.
The vehicle had struck Wright on his left side, then rolled over his upper back, according to the report. Wright managed to stand briefly before collapsing.
An autopsy revealed Wright had suffered from cardiac arrest as a result of blunt force injuries to his upper chest.
"We are deeply grieved by the loss of Staff Sgt. Wright who died from this tragic accident, and we are dedicated to caring for the affected family members," Col. Kenneth Moss, 43rd Airlift Group commander, said in an email. "Now that the investigation is complete, each member's command chain will determine what actions are appropriate, from potential disciplinary action to remedial training. We expect to complete our review and make a determination in the next couple of weeks."
The Air Force continues "to review the processes we use for both training and real-world missions to ensure they are safe while being effective," Moss said. "In the 43rd Airlift Group, we have renewed our focus on managing risk during all operations through active involvement of leadership at all levels. The Air Force also convened a safety board to focus on future mishap prevention. The results of the safety board are not releasable. Our goal is to minimize loss of Air Force resources and protect Air Force personnel from death, injuries or occupational illnesses by managing risks on- and off-duty."
Wright, a native of Pensacola, Florida, had been looking forward to a backpacking trip through Canada with his two older brothers, Aaron and Matthew, at the time of his death, the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina reported. In addition to his siblings, Wright is survived by his parents, Sylvia and David, and a fiancee.