A streak of three mistakes made by two jump masters with no penalty. This was the result of the investigation by the Military Justice into the death of paratrooper Pedro Chaves, 19, which took place a year ago.
The investigation conducted by the Army, based on images from the interior of the aircraft, jump manuals and testimonies, reached the conclusion that, despite the flaws pointed out, the death was a “fatality”.
Honored by President Jair Bolsonaro at the funeral of the young man’s body, the family was also informed by the Force that their pension was denied. They received only R$4,500 life insurance and medical care.
“It’s a lot of injustice, a corporatism. They defend each other all the time. And we’re like nothing. As if my son was nothing. That’s what my husband says: ‘They are officers involved’. Pedro was just a soldier. He had just arrived,” said Alynne Soares, 37, the soldier’s mother.
Chaves had joined the Army three months earlier, through compulsory military service. He managed to be selected for the Parachute Instruction Center, his dream since he was a child.
On his third and final training jump, the soldier was trapped for five minutes in the aircraft. Three parachutes were insufficient to prevent a 13-second free fall to the ground.
The parachute used on that jump was the semi-automatic. In it, the opening tape is hooked on the anchor line installed inside the aircraft. The parachute opens after the strap has been fully stretched, and with the weight of the jumper’s body falling, the link breaks.
It took three months for the family to be officially informed of what the military inside the aircraft learned shortly after the accident: they had forgotten to hook the rescue parachute opening tape to the plane’s anchor line, essential for the equipment. was triggered.
This was the third and most serious error identified in the videos recorded inside the aircraft.
The first flaw pointed out by the investigating commission was the fact that the soldier’s bonding tape (used to attach the military’s equipment backpack) was totally loose, touching the ground.
A colleague of Chaves’s noticed the flaw and tried to pick it up. Third Sergeant Alex Ribeiro, assistant to the show jumping master, also noticed and quickly fastened the tape.
The investigating commission pointed out that the sergeant should have removed the soldier from the jumping line so that the tape was properly stored (according) inside the compartment destined for it.
“There is no denying at this point that the most correct procedure to be adopted, in that circumstance, would be the removal of Private Chaves from the team, given that the connecting tape, in the state in which it was found, put the jumper at risk and that the attempt to re-arrest the equipment was not successful”, states the final report of the military police inquiry.
After the sergeant replaces the tape improperly, it falls back. Soon after, the soldier behind Chaves inadvertently steps on the tape. When jumping, it stretches out and wraps around the parachute release tape attached to the aircraft.
The intertwining of the ropes makes Pedro spend the next five minutes flying over Campo dos Afonsos, in the west side of Rio de Janeiro, hanging from the plane.
He could not be pulled back as he could hit the aircraft fuselage and seriously injure himself. There was also a risk that the parachute would open during the process and destabilize and bring down the aircraft.
The second error occurs at the beginning of the save attempt.
Those responsible were Sergeant Ribeiro, jump master assistant, and first lieutenant Callebe Souto, intercom operator and substitute for the main jump master, who had left the aircraft to meet them on the ground, as required by military rule.
The images show that the intercom operator takes the lead in the rescue, when performing the main procedures. The Army manual, however, states that this role belongs to the jump master assistant, in this case the sergeant.
In their statements, the two contradict each other. The lieutenant stated that the sergeant “was paralyzed” when he tried to give him the equipment that would allow the “sewing” of the rescue parachute in Chaves.
The sergeant, in turn, said the intercom operator took the lead in the rescue on his own.
The exchange of roles led both to believe that the other would be responsible for hooking the rescue parachute’s opening strap to the anchor line. However, neither of them performed the procedure, essential for it to work.
Chaves even tried to use the reserve parachute, which is attached to his chest and is activated by the jumper himself. The material, however, got tangled up with what was attached to the soldier and did not open.
The existence of this reserve parachute was the argument for the Army, the Public Ministry and the Military Justice to consider that there was no crime in the failures of the rescue.
“The mistake made by the intercom operator and the jump master assistant in the rescue procedure, by not having hooked the rescue auxiliary parachute, would not, by itself, have the ability to prevent Private Chaves from being saved, as that the latter still had another effective means of providing a safe landing, consistent with the reserve parachute”, states the final report of the inquiry, signed by Colonel Cromwell Medeiros.
The colonel is deputy commander of the Parachute Instruction Center, responsible for the training of soldiers and superior to those investigated.
“In the present case, in the risks inherent to the jumping activity, the rescue team was confident that, even if this last equipment failed, the jumper would still have the reserve parachute to deploy,” wrote prosecutor Najla Palma, in agreeing to the filing .
For the lawyer for the soldier’s family, Márcio Hippólito, the understanding would mean that no case could be classified as a crime of manslaughter.
“If this thesis of the Public Ministry succeeds, there will be no more wrongful death. For there to be wrongful death, there has to be recklessness, negligence or malpractice. All you have to do is read the report that characterizes the manslaughter. There was negligence and recklessness,” he said.
The investigation was completed in August, two months after the soldier’s death. The family was officially informed of the result in September by General Helder Braga, commander of the Parachute Brigade. In October, it was filed by Judge Mariana Campos.
“The general narrates this [as conclusões do inquérito] for us, he doesn’t deliver the document, and says: ‘They didn’t mean to. I will do everything to protect them.’ They weren’t even indicted. They were just witnesses to the case,” Alynne said.
The family had to ask for the process to be dismissed in order to know, in January, details of what happened.
The documents show that the soldier kept his hands on his head and chest during the entire period he was trapped in the aircraft, a procedure to show the crew that he was conscious during the rescue.
There is also no indication of an error when activating the reserve parachute. “Pedro doesn’t make any mistakes. Even if he messed up, he was a student. I had every right to be wrong. But he doesn’t even pass out. It stays there all the time. He was very strong until the end”, said the mother.
Alynne said she had heard from the military and from President Jair Bolsonaro himself that the family would be supported, with a military pension. A year later, it was reported that the pension was denied because it did not prove financial dependence.
“It’s not the money that will bring happiness, but it helps. Since they’re defending them so much, why didn’t they support the family too? It was what he achieved, what he wanted”, said Chaves’ mother.
In a statement, the Eastern Military Command stated that the investigation found all the circumstances of the accident and that the Military Public Ministry agreed with the filing.
“The Eastern Military Command and the Parachute Infantry Brigade remain saddened by the loss and in solidarity with the military’s family,” the army said.