HURLBURT FIELD — The Air Force has switched the search for an airman who fell out of a C-130 transport aircraft into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday into a recovery operation, according to a Friday evening news release from the 24th Special Operations Wing.


“As of 6 p.m. Friday, the U.S. Air Force has taken the lead role as the search transitions to a recovery effort for the Special Tactics Airman who had an unplanned parachute departure from a C-130 aircraft November 5, 2019, over the Gulf of Mexico, south of Hurlburt Field,” the 24th SOW, to which the airman belonged, said in the release.


Also according to the release, “(t)he U.S. Coast Guard has suspended their search efforts at this time.”


Earlier in the day, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said the Coast Guard had two 45-foot rescue boats, a cutter and a helicopter involved in the search.


In the initial stages of the search for the airman, a number of Air Force, Army and Coast Guard units had been involved, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, local sheriff’s offices and other emergency response units.


“We would like to extend our gratitude to all of the federal, state and local units that have aided in the search for our Airman, especially the U.S. Coast Guard,” Air Force Col. Matt Allen, commander of the 24th SOW, said in Friday evening’s news release.


Also in the release, Allen repeated what has become a stock response when the 24th SOW has been asked about how long efforts to locate the missing airman will continue.


“We will continue our recovery effort as long as circumstances and resources allow to bring our Airman home,” Allen said.


According to the Friday evening news release, recovery teams are currently refining and adjusting the search area as efforts to locate the missing airman continue.


As late as Thursday, the Coast Guard had indicated that the search area extended nearly 30 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, along a stretch of coastline from Destin to Pensacola, defining a nearly 700-square-mile search area.


The name of the missing airman will be released by the Air Force following formal notification of next of kin regarding the switch to a recovery operation “to respect the privacy of the family and teammates of the individual ... ,” the 24th SOW noted in the Friday evening release.


The airman fell out of the aircraft shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday, during what the 24th SOW said was “a planned static-line jump as part of a training event.”


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A number of Air Force, Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) assets and personnel, along with other military and government emergency response agencies, had remained involved or available for the search prior to Friday’s announcement of the switch to an Air Force-led recovery operation.


Earlier in the day Friday, circumstances affecting the search included weather and sea conditions that kept FWC personnel and their boats out of the Gulf of Mexico, according to the agency’s Officer Robert Ramos, FWC spokesman for Northwest Florida.


“It’s blowing really rough out there,” Ramos said early Friday afternoon.


However, Ramos added, FWC personnel were patrolling the shoreline looking for signs of the missing airman.


Even as the search, and now the recovery effort, remained under way, the Air Force has been pursuing an internal investigation into the circumstances that led to the airman’s fall.


“The Air Force has procedures for reviewing incidents from a safety perspective and we are following those procedures ... ,” 24th SOW public affairs officer Capt. Jaclyn Pienkowski said in a Friday afternoon email.