Air Force releases report about USAF contractor killed by a drone

Stephanie Cosme (Facebook)

A tragic mishap at an airfield in California has left one contractor dead, and the US Air Force is releasing new details into what went wrong.

A civilian contract employee, 32-year-old Stephanie Cosme, reportedly lost “situational awareness” while working around an active drone at Gray Butte Airfield in Southern California, leading to a fatal incident.

Cosme, employed as a test engineer, was engaged in ground testing activities when the unfortunate event occurred, inadvertently walking into the rotating propeller of a parked MQ-9A Reaper drone.

The subsequent investigation report, spanning 40 pages, delved into the circumstances surrounding the incident. It identified two primary contributing factors: inadequate training regarding telemetry readings and a lapse in situational awareness as Cosme maneuvered around the drone with a handheld device.

Brigadier General Lance R. French highlighted additional elements that “substantially contributed to the mishap.” These included communication deficiencies between the contractor test team and ground support workers, as well as time pressures arising from previous delays in testing procedures.

The investigation report provided by the USAF meticulously outlined the sequence of events leading to the loss of Cosme.

Following measurements with a power meter, Cosme proceeded down the right side of the fuselage, all while engrossed in her tasks and seemingly manipulating buttons on the device.

Despite attempts by colleagues to alert her, she continued without lifting her gaze and walked directly into the propeller, sustaining fatal injuries.

Witnessing the sudden drop in engine RPM and increase in torque, the crew reacted urgently, with a crew member activating the drone’s kill switch. However, resuscitative efforts proved unsuccessful, and Cosme was pronounced dead.

In an endeavor to better understand what happened, Air Force officials endeavored to replicate the conditions of the incident. Safety officials recreate twilight lighting and engine settings to assess visibility angles, and it was revealed that the propeller was not visible from the angle Cosme approached.

Stephanie Cosme’s untimely passing left a profound impact on her loved ones and colleagues, who remembered for her diverse interests, including crafting, baking, and aviation.

Cosme is survived by her parents, two siblings, fiancé, and stepdaughter.

The MQ-9A Reaper, a pivotal asset in U.S. Marine Corps operations, is renowned for its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. With a wingspan of 66 feet and the capacity to carry up to eight laser-guided Hellfire missiles, this $56.5 million aircraft plays a significant role in military missions, including high-profile operations against adversaries such as the 2020 strike targeting Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and engagements against Taliban forces during the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2021.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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