ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD — A parachutist with the U.S. Army Reserve was killed yesterday when a routine jump went bad and the soldier landed in a pool of liquified manure just outside the drop zone, a witness and an Army official said.

About 13 reservists, trying to rescue Pvt. Martin S. Eskew, formed a human chain to retrieve the unconscious soldier from the pool, one witness said. Five of the rescuers, who were not identified, were treated for hypothermia last night at Kimborough Army Medical Center, according to Maj. Richard Lane, a spokesman with the 97th Army Reserve Command at Fort Meade. One of those soldiers was hospitalized overnight for observation, Lane said.

Lane said Eskew, 20, whose address was not released, died of asphyxiation.

Lane said investigators were still trying to stitch together the sequence of events that led to Eskew's death.

"They always joked that if you landed in that lake you were walking back,"
the witness said.

A witness, who said he participated in the jump and the rescue, provided details of the accident.

The witness and Eskew were part of the 11th Special Forces Group, which is attached to the 97th Army Reserve Command. The jump originated from Fort Meade, where a helicopter took off to fly over the nearby U.S. Naval Academy Dairy Farm. The spokesman confirmed that the farm is used for jumps and that a lake, of sorts, is on the farm. He could not confirm what was in the lake.

But the witness, who asked that his name not be used, said that before each jump, it is routine to explain each hazard the jumpers may encounter.

"They always joked that if you landed in that lake you were walking back," the witness said, adding that the officers warned that the lake was full of liquified manure.

The witness said that the parachutists jump in groups of eight to 10 people who form a "stick," in Army parlance. Each stick, he said, has a 28-second window of opportunity to jump. If a soldier jumps too early of too late, he stands a chance of missing the two-mile-wide drop zone.

"There was a delay for some reason," the witness said, when the helicopter signaled a green light, meaning the window of opportunity had begun. He said at least five people overshot the drop zone as a result of the delay, including Eskew. "All five people were around the pond," he said, which is about six feet deep and is 40 feet in diameter.

The witness said conditions were "perfect" to jump when the accident happened about noon. The winds were blowing six to eight knots, he said, not strong enough to cause any parachutist to overshoot the drop zone.

"I saw [Eskew] hit the water, then I heard somebody say, 'He's not coming up,'" the witness said. Several people jumped into the liquid to assist Eskew, the witness said, but one reported that the bottom of the pond was so soft that it was sucking the soldiers in when they put their weight down.

The witness said that seven of them formed a chain that reached out to the unconscious Eskew, who was beneath the canopy of the chute. One of the soldiers removed the chute and then retrieved the man, the witness said.

Two medics at the scene tried to revive Eskew, and then an ambulance arrived to take him to Kimborough Army Medical Center, where he died.