A rock-climbing anchor system that a team of airmen were using to rappel off a cliff in Idaho last fall unexpectedly failed, causing one airman to fall to his death, according to a new investigation report.
An Air Force Accident Investigation Board report released Wednesday concluded that Tech. Sgt. Peter Kraines, a special tactics pararescueman, died Oct. 8 because two pieces of rock climbing protective gear dislodged from the rock surface crevice, causing Kraines' fall.
The five-member team, assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, were participating in a routine six-day mountain rescue training event at the Black Cliffs near Boise, Idaho, and were on their final climb of the day when the accident occurred, the report said. Earlier in the week, the team finished multiple climbs "without incident." The team consisted of three pararescuemen and two combat controllers, according to Air Force Special Operations Command.
Kraines and the team picked a new spot at the Black Cliffs that afternoon after a few climbs earlier that day. The team surveyed the site, and Kraines decided there was not enough room to rappel without shock-loading the rope -- causing a hammering or jerking effect that occurs when the load weight is disproportionately placed.
Kraines decided against that location "because the difficult edge transition created unnecessary risk for the less experienced members of the [team]," the report said.
The team moved to "rocks higher up and approximately six feet away from the edge," which Kraines, along with a teammate, deemed suitable for a traditional rock pro anchor. The climb would allow the members to "lean back, gradually weight the anchor, and establish the hand used for engaging the brake strand of the rope before they began to rappel, allowing for a safer edge transition," according to the report.
After checking the rock to make sure it was secure and assessing for hollow points and loose rubble, Kraines built the anchor system for the rope, and another team member headed down, completing his climb successfully.
A second airman began his descent and felt a slight shift in the rope. Kraines responded that it was likely due to the pro settling and "gripping the rock," but rechecked the anchor anyway; the airman continued his descent.
Then, hovering roughly 15 feet from the ground, he slipped downward, when one of the pieces of the affixed anchor gear "became unsecured," the report said. Right after the initial anchor came loose, a second piece of gear detached, causing him "to fall the remainder of the way to the ground."
Kraines, who was clipped into the anchor system at the top, "was subsequently pulled off the ledge and landed at the base of the cliff," falling approximately 53 feet, the report said.
The team and emergency responders attempted to revive Kraines; he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators said there was no evidence that any of the rock-climbing and mountaineering equipment malfunctioned during the time of the mishap.
"All climbing equipment recovered from the mishap site was intact, in serviceable condition, and functioning properly," the report said.
Kraines enlisted in the service in March 2011, according to AFSOC. Upon completing the two-year pararescue training program, he was assigned to the 347th Rescue Group, Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Kraines was selected in 2017 to join the ranks within Special Tactics and was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
His experience included military static-line jumping, free-fall jumping, combat scuba diving and was certified as an emergency medical technician, AFSOC said.
"This is a tragic loss to the Special Tactics community," Air Force Col. Matthew Allen, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, said at the time of the accident.
"We are grateful for the support from our community and our AFSOC teammates. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and teammates at this time."
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.