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ERRATIC WINDS FORCE HARD LANDING FOR 27

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At least 27 paratroops from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were injured when tossed about by winds during a training exercise before dozens of stunned spectators at Salt Lake Airport No. 2.

Most of the injuries were minor, but six paratroops were hospitalized overnight. They were listed in stable condition Friday.Four C-141 planes carrying 425 paratroops flew over the small airport in West Jordan about 10 a.m. Thursday in conjunction with the 82nd Airborne's annual convention in Salt Lake City.

But of the 271 who jumped on the first pass at 800 feet, many were blown off course and hit the ground hard. Some were dragged several yards in the dirt and grass surrounding the airport or onto the tarmac as the erratic winds caught their open chutes.

"One of them hit an ambulance and one hit some type of sign, like a directional sign for an aircraft on the taxiway," said Deputy Salt Lake City Fire Chief Stephen Higgs.

The strong surface winds cut short the training exercise and the planes were directed to Hill Air Force Base, a statement from the division said.

In addition to the winds, the unfamiliar terrain may have contributed to the injuries, said Sgt. 1st Class C.J. Costello, spokeswoman for the division based in Fort Bragg, N.C.

"When you jump in unfamiliar territory you tend to have more injuries," she said.

Costello said the safe wind tolerance for parachuting is 13 knots or lower. The statement from the division said wind speeds were clocked at 10 to 12 knots for those who did jump.

Army officials downplayed the rough ride, saying jumping from an airplane is inherently dangerous, and mishaps do happen.

"It's one of those things where the drop-zone safety officer and the people in charge determined the wind conditions were in fact safe to conduct an operation," said Maj. Rivers Johnson, division spokesman in Salt Lake.

He said most of the medical evacuations would not have been warranted had the jump occurred at Fort Bragg.

But the crowd saw "some soldiers hitting the ground pretty hard, and for a civilian it's kind of tough watching that," he said. "But these are proud airborne soldiers and they bounce back pretty good."