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Tragic: Test Engineer Killed by Prop Lost Situational Awareness

Engineer Dies of Prop Strike at Gray Butte Airfield

The tragic incident involving Stephanie Cosme at Gray Butte Airfield underscores critical issues in operational safety and situational awareness in high-risk environments. Cosme, a 32-year-old test engineer employed by Sumaria Systems, LLC, was fatally injured on September 7, 2023, when she walked into a rotating propeller of an MQ-9A Reaper drone during a ground test.

The Air Force's investigation into the accident highlighted several key factors contributing to the unfortunate event. Firstly, the report indicates that Cosme was inadequately trained on how to properly approach the aircraft while conducting telemetry readings. This lack of proper training was pivotal, as it set the stage for the second factor: loss of situational awareness. Cosme was focused on the handheld device she was using to take measurements, which distracted her from her surroundings, including the dangers posed by the operational propeller.

Brig. Gen. Lance R. French pointed out additional systemic issues that exacerbated the situation. There was a noted lack of communication between the contractor test team and the ground support workers. Moreover, the urgency to conduct tests, which were delayed prior, led to a rushed execution on that day. These conditions created a chaotic environment where critical safety protocols may have been overlooked.

The final moments before the accident were particularly harrowing, as colleagues realized the imminent danger and attempted to alert Cosme by shouting and waving. Unfortunately, their efforts were too late to avert the tragedy.

This incident serves as a stark reminder of the importance of comprehensive training, clear communication, and the need for constant vigilance in maintaining situational awareness, especially in environments where the stakes are high and the equipment involves significant risk.



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