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Airman drowned after ‘cardiac event’ on Jet Ski

An airman suffered a cardiac incident while awaiting a training exercise on an Arizona lake last June, where he drowned after he fell off the Jet Ski he was operating, a newly published Air Force investigation into the mishap has found.

The conclusion concurs with those of local civilian medical and law enforcement records obtained by Air Force Times late last year.

The body of Staff Sgt. Kory Wade, 33, a medical logistics technician with the 48th Rescue Squadron at Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, was found June 17, 2023, three days after he was reported missing at Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The service announced his death in a news release following the incident.

Wade’s body was recovered from water about 130 feet deep following a search by local authorities and Air Force personnel, according to the accident investigation report published Jan. 12, which refers to Wade as “Mishap Operator 1.” He was not wearing a life vest when his body was found, despite being required to do so by Air Force policy and Arizona law, the service said.

“In the minutes preceding the drowning, [Wade] suffered a cardiac event (possibilities include arrythmia, ischemia and/or heart attack), causing him to fall into the water and submerge to the lake floor,” the Air Force report said.

Wade was one of two people, including a contractor working with the squadron, who arrived at Roosevelt Lake on the morning of June 14 to support search-and-rescue training operations planned through June 16. The contractor told investigators that Wade had “appeared stressed” while running late to the boat shop on base and to pick up groceries, but that the trip from Davis-Monthan to Roosevelt Lake, which took about three hours, was otherwise uneventful, the report said.

According to the report, Wade and the unidentified contractor arrived at the lake a day early to help keep summer boat traffic out of the area during infiltration-and-extraction training planned by the 48th RQS and 55th RQS, also from Davis-Monthan.

They were not required or expected to participate that day, and no watercraft or personnel from the two rescue squadrons were expected in the water, the report said. However, the two were slated to support training operations for the 68th RQS, another Davis-Monthan-based unit, in the week ahead, the investigation said.

An autopsy revealed that plaque buildup had narrowed one of Wade’s arteries by 80%, Air Force Times previously reported. Though others in his family had suffered from heart attacks, the airman had no personal history of cardiac issues, the Air Force said. He had used tobacco but quit in 2021; the investigation noted that two vaping devices along with food, a wallet, iPhone and sandals were found in the Jet Ski’s storage and a dry bag.

The Jet Ski Wade was riding had no known maintenance problems at the time of the incident, the Air Force noted.

Wade enlisted in the Air Force in 2008 after high school and arrived at the 48th RQS in February 2023, where he took on the role of boat master for his squadron, the investigation report said. He was certified as an advanced rescuecraft operator and boat master in 2022, and had completed the BoatUS Foundation’s boating safety course in 2021.

He had also earned a commercial driver’s license in anticipation of a second career after leaving the military, his parents told Air Force Times.

Jill Betz, Wade’s mother, questioned whether wearing a life vest would have saved her son’s life if he was incapacitated by a heart issue. Still, Betz said she had never doubted Wade’s decision to join the military.

“The military was the best thing for him to do,” she told Air Force Times in November. “To see the man that they turned him into — wow. It was amazing.”

Air Force Times Editor Rachel S. Cohen contributed to this story.

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