Navy begins search for airman who fell into Gulf

The Navy on Friday began a 24-hour search for an airman who is presumed dead after he fell out of a C-130 aircraft and into the Gulf of Mexico earlier this week.

“The death of Staff Sgt. (Cole) Condiff is devastating and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and his unit,” Navy Capt. Aaron Peters, commanding officer of the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Panama City Division, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that our efforts bring him home and offer some measure of relief to his family.”

A Navy launched a ship equipped with side-scan sonar, six unmanned underwater vehicles and three remotely operated vehicles to search for Condiff's body.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff fell out of a plane earlier this week into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff fell out of a plane earlier this week into the Gulf of Mexico.  (Air Force)

The underwater vehicles will search an 18-square-mile area for the Dallas native, the Navy said. The Coast Guard has been searching more than 4,900 nautical miles as part of a recovery effort.

Condiff, 29, a special tactics combat controller with the 24th Special Operations Wing, fell 1,500 feet out of a plane Tuesday morning during a parachute-jump training exercise being run out of Hurlburt Field, Fla., investigators said.

The R/V Patriot launched Friday in support of continuous 24-hour operations to recover U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff, who made an “unplanned plane departure” from a C-130 over the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo by Ron Newsome)

The R/V Patriot launched Friday in support of continuous 24-hour operations to recover U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Condiff, who made an “unplanned plane departure” from a C-130 over the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo by Ron Newsome)

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Crew members said they saw Condiff, whose parachute did not deploy, treading water but lost sight of him when the plane made a turn to rescue him.

Condiff enlisted in the Air Force in 2012 and was a static-line jumpmaster, military free-fall jumper, combat scuba diver, air traffic controller and joint terminal attack controller. He has completed deployments to Africa and Afghanistan.

Fox News' Frank Miles contributed to this report.