HURLBURT FIELD — The Coast Guard’s decision to call off the search for missing Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff after four days last week was far from arbitrary, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said Wednesday.


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Late on the morning of Nov. 5, Condiff, a jumpmaster with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, was blown out of a four-engine C-130 combat aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico about two miles from the installation.



According to reports from the Air Force and his father, Condiff’s parachute accidentally deployed while he was performing safety checks on other airmen during a parachuting exercise.


Boats from Coast Guard Station Destin were quickly on the scene, and other Coast Guard assets were deployed to the Gulf prior to the service’s Friday decision to abandon the search.


"It’s never easy for the Coast Guard to suspend a search," said Petty Officer Sydney Phoenix. "When we do, it is up to the search and rescue mission coordinator working that case ... ."


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The Coast Guard goes through a specific set of calculations to determine how long to search for someone missing in the water, Phoenix said.


"We have something kind of like a calculator," she explained. "We put in information about the person’s height, age, weight — everything about them — and then it gives us a calculation, based on the water temperature, of how long they can survive in the water."


According to a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration data collection point near Pensacola, the water temperature for that part of the Gulf ranged roughly from 65 to 68 degrees during the search period.


Condiff likely also had some edge in that straightforward calculation, Phoenix added.


"But we also (consider) if the person has had any training," she said, "or (if there is) anything else that may aid in their survival in the water," such as wearing safety equipment.


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According to his Air Force biography, Condiff was a qualified combat scuba diver. But whether he was wearing any safety equipment that might have helped him in the water is unclear. An Air Force investigation of the incident is under way, and thus far the public affairs office at the 24th Special Operations Wing, of which Condiff was a part, has not provided specific details.


Phoenix, who was not directly involved in the search for Condiff, could not say whether his fall from the C-130 into the water was considered in calculating how long the search continued.


According to Phoenix, other agencies involved in the search were aware of the Coast Guard’s decision process, and knew that the Coast Guard would, at some point, cease its work to locate Condiff.


"We coordinated really closely with the Air Force command center and their public affairs officers to let them know what the Coast Guard was doing," Phoenix said.


At its height, in addition to the Coast Guard, the search involved a number of Air Force and Army assets, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and area sheriff’s offices and emergency response agencies.


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The ongoing recovery operation, which is proceeding daily, weather permitting, involves assets of the 24th Special Operations Wing along with Hurlburt’s host unit, the 1st Special Operations Wing. Also involved is the Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2, a Virginia-based unit with diving and salvage expertise.


During their four-day search, Coast Guard air and boat crews spent more than 130 hours on scene and searched more than 4,909 square-nautical miles of the Gulf, according to a Coast Guard news release. The Coast Guard used two 45-foot rescue boats, a helicopter and at least one cutter to try to find Condiff.


Phoenix could not say specifically how the search for Condiff compared with other Coast Guard searches.


"Every case is different," she said.


In other developments, an online GoFundMe effort to provide support for Condiff’s wife and two young daughters, which began Sunday, had raised more that $80,000 by Wednesday on the way to its $100,000 goal.