Four soldiers died of exposure after struggling through chilly, chest-deep swamp waters in the last days of a stressful two months of Army Ranger training, officials said Thursday.
Three died after they were rescued Wednesday and the body of a fourth was found Thursday morning after an all-night search.
Four others suffering from hypothermia were rescued Wednesday night. Hypothermia is caused by severe loss of body heat, leading to extreme fatigue, drowsiness, disorientation, and sometimes death.
The soldiers, undergoing the toughest training of the U.S. Army, had already been tested in the forest, desert and mountains to prepare them for extreme war conditions.
They had been out in the swampy grounds of Eglin Air Force Base since Saturday. A decision Wednesday to cross chilly streams swollen by rain was blamed for their exposure, Army officials said.
“Once they disembarked from the boats, they discovered the water was significantly higher than they had anticipated,” Lt. Col. Joseph Spenneberg, an executive officer with the Ranger Training Brigade said at a news conference at Fort Benning, Ga.
Streams expected to be knee-deep were often chest-deep, and in some cases, over the soldiers’ heads.
The soldiers had to string ropes to cross the streams, making the training more grueling than planned.
The instructors “have years of experience and in their estimation they thought it was safe to continue,” Spenneberg said.
The water temperature was 52 degrees, just above the 50-degree threshold set in 1977 after two soldiers died from hypothermia during Ranger training, said Col. Galen Jackman, commander of the Ranger Training Brigade, at a news conference at Eglin.
The deaths were being investigated by the Army Safety Office from Fort Rucker, Ala.