South Carolina

2 Shaw Air Force Base airmen died after physical fitness assessments, commander says

Air Force officials have launched an investigation into the deaths of two airmen stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, who died days apart after physical fitness assessments, a commander said Monday.

Senior Airman Amalia Joseph died May 26 at Prisma Health Tuomey in Sumter, officials have said. Senior Airman Aaron Hall died Saturday — six days after Joseph — at Prisma Health Richland in Columbia.

Until Monday, officials had only said that both airmen died from “health complications.” But Monday, Col. Derek O’Malley, 20th Fighter Wing commander, said Joseph and Hall died from health complications “which occurred after the completion of two separate official Air Force physical fitness assessments.”

Additional details about the deaths, including the dates that Joseph and Hall were hospitalized, were not available, with a spokesman citing the ongoing investigation and Health Information Portability and Privacy Act protections. The deaths came during a heat wave that sent high temperatures in the Midlands into the triple digits for consecutive days; however, there was no word Monday if the weather is suspected in the airmen’s deaths.

“We don’t know what caused these deaths, but we are exploring every possibility to get the answers we need to prevent this from happening again,” O’Malley said in an email to The State. “I have suspended all PT testing, and we’re looking closely at our processes and investigating their work environment for anything that may have contributed to these tragedies. As you can imagine, we are struggling as a team after a very difficult last few weeks, but we will be as transparent as we possibly can as we work through this.”

Joseph and Hall both worked in the Electronic Warfare section of the Component Maintenance Squadron, officials have said. Their deaths were the second and third in two weeks involving Shaw airmen, following the suicide of Senior Airman Jose Llanes, who was found dead May 21.

“While these kinds of losses are part of life, especially in military service, that doesn’t make them any easier,” O’Malley said. “Our lives were better because we knew them, but our squadrons are so much emptier without them. As time passes the wing and our mission will get back to some version of normal, but for the families and friends of these fallen Airmen, these losses will never be normal. They will need our close support, not just this week, but in the weeks, months, and years to come.

“So where do we go from here? We will promise to remember them—their faces, their smiles, their laughter, and the way they made us feel. We will honor their memories by striving to understand exactly what happened in each of these incidents, and we will do everything in our power to make sure these types of tragedies never happen again.”

Teddy Kulmala covers breaking news for The State and covered crime and courts for seven years in Columbia, Rock Hill, Aiken and Lumberton, N.C. He graduated from Clemson University and grew up in Barnwell County.