Two photographs of Army Sgt. Jose M. Pasillas stood on his parents’ coffee table Sunday, surrounded by Our Lady of Guadalupe candles — a shrine to the 34-year-old Army paratrooper, who died in Alaska after a training jump.
Juan Pasillas was still in shock to find himself making funeral arrangements for his son, who leaves behind his wife, Maria; a 5-year-old son; and a 2-year-old daughter.
“I don’t know how it could happen,” Juan Pasillas said in Spanish. “I talked to him about three weeks ago and he was fine, he was healthy and he was upbeat.”
Jose Pasillas collapsed after a jump about 3 p.m. Thursday at the Malamute Drop Zone at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, according to an Army release. He underwent emergency surgery for a torn aorta and died at 8 p.m. Thursday at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
Juan Pasillas said officials told him that his son completed the jump, fell, got up and was gathering his equipment when he collapsed a second time.
“He never got up again,” Juan Pasillas said. “They rushed him to the hospital, but they couldn’t save him.”
He said Sunday that his son, a construction equipment repairer with the 23rd Engineer Company, had not complained to him of any major medical problems.
“Every once in a while, he would say he had a minor back problem or his leg was hurting a little,” his father said. “But he would just tell me that those were what a paratrooper had to go through.”
The Army release said: “There is no indication Pasillas had a hard landing or any equipment malfunction in the jump he had just completed before he collapsed. His parachute had been packed away and he was wearing his rucksack when other soldiers reached him. At this time, there is no known connection between the jump and the cause of death.”
Jose Pasillas attended Trimble Tech High School in Fort Worth for a year. He entered the Army in 2001 and attended basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.
“He volunteered and he was quite happy being in the Army,” his father said Sunday.
Pasillas arrived in Alaska in August 2012 after being stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Bragg, N.C. According to the Army, he had combat deployments into Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2004, 2006 and 2009.
His father said Maria Pasillas and the children live in North Carolina.
The Army says an investigation is ongoing.
“Maybe I’ll know more in the next few days,” Juan Pasillas said.
“The Army was his life and I’m so proud of him.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
This report includes material from The Associated Press and KTUU-TV in Anchorage.