It was a counterterrorism training exercise that the two agents from the FBI's elite hostage rescue unit had completed dozens of times before: rappelling from a helicopter onto the deck of a ship at sea.
But as Special Agents Christopher Lorek and Stephen Shaw began their descent on Friday onto a ship roughly a dozen miles off the coast of Virginia, the helicopter suddenly tilted because of a strong gust of wind. As the pilot tried to steady the aircraft, the two men, holding onto the ropes and loaded down with gear, lost their grips and fell.
By the time they were rescued from the water, one of them was dead. The other died soon after.
The episode, announced Sunday by the FBI, was the first time that an agent has died in the line of duty since December 2011. In the past 12 years, six others have been killed. The FBI has about 14,000 agents.
Lorek, 41, and Shaw, 40, are believed to have died from blunt trauma, according to a senior law enforcement official who provided details Monday based on an initial investigation by the bureau. The official spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity because an investigation of the accident is ongoing.
Lorek had been a member of the hostage rescue unit, based in Quantico, Va., for six years. Shaw joined the unit 21/2 years ago. The men, both married and fathers of two, lived near Quantico.