Maj. Garrett Wayne Knowlan, 32, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and executive officer for Brig. Gen. David Harris, 96th Test Wing commander at Eglin Air Force Base, was the married father of two children and had lived in Shalimar since 2010, according to an Eglin Air Force base spokeswoman.
The accident, which took place last Thursday, wasn’t made public until Wednesday morning. Air Force public relations officials provided only limited details of the mishap, which is still under investigation.
Knowlan was struck by a boat in Pensacola Bay, according to Maj. Carla Gleason, chief of operations for Air Education and Training Command public affairs at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio.
The four-day training course, which focuses on staying alive after parachuting into open water, is designed “for persons at high risk of isolation when they get shot down,” said 1st Lt. Nick Kim, a spokesman for the. Air Force Survival School, headquartered at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state.
Knowlan, based at Eglin, was a veteran aviator whose experience included graduating from the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He flew the CV-22 Osprey and HC/MC 130J.
“This is a tragic loss which has been felt throughout team Eglin,” Harris said. “Garrett was an outstanding officer and test engineer, respected through the wing. He was dedicated to the United States Air Force and, as my executive officer, served as my right-hand man.”
Despite his rank, Knowlan was required to undergo the same training as much less experienced flight crew members, Kim said.
“For survival school, it ranges from a young airman to a high-level officer,” he said.
According to normal schedules of the four-day class, Knowlan was in the third day.
Like thousands of survival trainees before him, Knowlan rode into the bay on a small boat launched from Pensacola Naval Air Station, where the Air Force training program is based. Sometime Thursday afternoon, he was hooked to a parasail while standing on the boat and then hoisted behind it.
The training involves elevating the parasailing students to a height of about 200 feet. Then the trainees are lowered into the water to simulate a parachute drop. According to an Air Force website, once in the water, the students practice signaling rescue aircraft, dealing with hazardous aquatic life and life raft procedures.
Knowlan, a native of Jackson, Mo., is survived by his wife, Megan Marie Shipley Knowlan, and their two sons. Funeral services are tentatively scheduled for Friday in the major’s hometown, where his homecoming will be in accord with the survival school’s motto: “Return with Honor.”
In his obituary, Knowlan was described as a hard-working, outstanding young Christian man who was a “life force” for his wife and young sons.
“Garrett’s death is an unfathomable loss to his family, his friends and his country,” the obituary read. “His death raises many difficult questions that seem impossible to answer.”
The Northwest Florida Daily News contributed to this report.