Press Conference - Death of Australian Army Soldier

7 March 2024

SUBJECTS: Army training incident

BRIGADIER JAMES KIDD: Good afternoon. My name is Brigadier James Kidd. I am the Acting Special Operations Commander Australia. It’s with a very heavy heart that I must inform you that an Australian Army soldier has recently died as a result of injuries sustained in a parachuting incident that occurred over the Sydney area overnight. 

With the permission of that soldier’s family I am in a position to inform you that his name was Lance Corporal Jack Fitzgibbon. Jack was a much loved and respected soldier within the 2nd Commando Regiment, which is part of the Special Operations Command in the Army. Jack was loved for his courage and known for his sense of humour and his service to the country. 

Members of the 2nd Commando Regiment have ceased training at this moment, and they are mustering at Holsworthy Barracks to process this news that I’m now sharing with you. 

Jack had served his country on operations abroad and also closer to home, serving with country and local communities as part of natural disaster responses. Defence has initiated a formal investigation into this incident as we seek to learn how we can strengthen our processes, but we acknowledge that military training is inherently risky, and we remain committed to constantly training at the highest standards to achieve the level of excellence that we know our nation demands of us. Nonetheless, that investigation is underway and we’ll be able to provide you some further information in due course. 

But today I’m afraid my focus is, instead, on the family, and if you would just give me one moment. With the permission of the Fitzgibbon family, who are, of course, devastated and heartbroken, I’m in a position to read a brief statement from Mr Joel Fitzgibbon, Jack’s father. And then, of course, I will take some questions. 

“We are devastated and heartbroken by the loss of our wonderful Jack. Serving in the Special Forces was Jack’s dream job, and we take some comfort from the fact that he died serving his nation in the uniform of the Australian Defence Force. Jack was a dedicated, highly skilled and courageous soldier. He was an experienced parachutist. Our lives will never be the same without Jack, but we will always remain proud of him and his many achievements.” 

That statement has been provided by Mr Joel Fitzgibbon, and I’m now happy to take questions. 

JOURNALIST: Can you give an early indication of what went wrong last night?

BRIGADIER KIDD: It is, of course, too early to speculate about what may have gone wrong in that parachuting incident overnight. It was part of a routine military training exercise that was conducted around the Royal Australian Air Force base there in Richmond. We train parachuting exercises and operations with regularity. I am a Special Forces qualified parachutist. I know first-hand how difficult that particular military skill is, and we demand our paratroopers to reach the highest standards. As I note, however, it is too earlier to speculate on what may have occurred in detail. 

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] Joel Fitzgibbons says in that statement that his son was an experienced parachutist. How often had he taken such exercise and such jumps? And can I also ask, was there anyone else involved in the collision there or anything like that? 

BRIGADIER KIDD: At this time – to answer your second question first – we have no detail of any other personnel involved in that incident. We are not aware of any other injuries that have been sustained. At this stage it is just Lance Corporal Jack Fitzgibbon who was – who has died as a result of those injuries. 

Turning to your other question, parachuting requires high repetition, it requires a great competence in drills and procedures and routine both in the aircraft and under canopy. We, therefore, expect that our parachutists are training with high frequency. The specifics of the number of jumps that apply to this particular soldier we will wait to determine as a result of that investigation. 

JOURNALIST: When was his first jump, for example? Because I think he was only recently special forces. 

BRIGADIER KIDD: Lance Corporal Fitzgibbon was a relatively junior member of Special Operations Command. He was a qualified parachutist. I will take on notice, however, when he achieved that qualification and the number of specific jumps that he has completed. 

JOURNALIST: Have any modifications been made to Special Operations training as a result of this? 

BRIGADIER KIDD: What I can offer at this time is that we have paused all parachuting training. We have also paused that particular exercise that was being conducted in Sydney. That allows us to reconstitute the safety staff and the medical teams. It also allows us to conduct that first analysis so that we can learn and make any adaptations that we may require to do. 

I would offer that that Defence investigation will likely take some time. We will review the point at which we recommence parachuting training. To answer your question: there are no further adaptations or changes that we have made pending that investigation. 

JOURNALIST: That particular, can you tell us anything about it? Is it a particularly [indistinct] no matter what happens, but can you tell us about that particular exercise? 

BRIGADIER KIDD: This particular exercise was a routine military training exercise. It was focused on parachuting. So I would describe it as routine military training. 

JOURNALIST: Obviously this is a dangerous exercise, which you’ve indicated. I imagine, the nature of injuries were severe. What medical attention did he get on the site [indistinct]? 

BRIGADIER KIDD: Look, I won’t provide detailed advice on the medical treatment that was provided. That’s not the purpose of the discussion today. What I can advise, however, is that military training of this nature always involves a very deliberately planned medical wraparound. So there were medical assets that were there on site, including medical attention provided by Jack’s team mates. We would also acknowledge the presence of New South Wales Ambulance Service who responded quickly and provided the type of high-quality medical care that all Australians know they provide. And we do thank the New South Wales Ambulance Service for that timely and impressive response. 

JOURNALIST: What assistance [indistinct] you mentioned the other members of that [indistinct] are gathering now. [Indistinct]? 

BRIGADIER KIDD: Thank you for your question. This is something that’s on the mind of all members of Army and the Army leadership today. We are looking and working closely with members of the 2nd Commando Regiment to provide them the sort of chaplaincy, spiritual, psychological and other leadership support that they might be seeking. As I noted, there is a unit muster that’s occurring as we speak, and we’ll be gathering around that to provide them all the support that they require. 

And if I may offer that that same support, of course, then gets extended to the Fitzgibbon family. Army is a giant team, and we comprise many, many team members and many, many families. And the Fitzgibbon family is absolutely part of that Army community. 

JOURNALIST: Where had Lance Corporate Fitzgibbon served overseas and was it with special forces? 

BRIGADIER KIDD: I might take that question on notice if you don’t mind. If you wouldn’t mind I’d prefer to ensure we provide that separately so we’ve given you all the details with accuracy. 

JOURNALIST: And in these exercises, how many soldiers would be leaping from the plane?

BRIGADIER KIDD: Look, without going through the specifics of this particular incident, parachuting can involve small teams through to larger formed bodies. Of course, the Australian Defence Force also parachutes materiel from time to time when required. We also parachute humanitarian assistance and other aid when required from time to time. So the nature of the number of parachutists on any one particular activity can vary considerably, as you would appreciate. 

SPEAKER: Thanks, no more questions. Thank you.

** End of transcript **

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