Five soldiers were killed during a recent 11-day period at Fort Carson, Colo., in training accidents ranging from tear gas asphyxiation to being run over by a tank.
A Fort Carson spokesman conceded yesterday that the number of deaths for 1978 is unusually high, but denied that there is any pattern to them that indicates that the training practices are to blame.
But the Army is still investigating the first of the accidents, the asphyxiation death, and said yesterday that disciplinary action "against individuals is under consideration."
Pvt.Edward Sanders, 20, of Sussex, N.J., died from tear gas apparently inhaled in quantity while he was in a tent during a training exercise at Fort Carson on Feb. 13.
Sanders' artillery unit of the 4th Infantry Division based at Carson had neither oxygen nor an ambulance on hand. He was placed in a jeep and taken to the base hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Asked why there was no ambulance standing by, the Army told The Washington Post in an official response yesterday that "tactical vehicles are often used in field training sites in lieu of ambulances because it is impossible to have an ambulance at every training site."
The Army added that a Jeep with a stretcher is "a safer mode" than an ambulance because the Jeep can handle the rough roads of training areas.
Maj. Frederick M. Stables, a spokesman for Fort Carson, said units conducting tear gas exercises do not ordinarily have oxygen on hand. The type of tear gas that asphyxiated Sanders is known as CS, an agent often used in civil disturbances because it is not considered harmful.
Four canisters of CS tear gas were hurled during the night training exercise at Carson, one of which landed either in or near Sanders' tent, according to the Army.
"Pvt. Sanders was found halfway out the rear entrance" of the tent, the Army said. "His protective mask was on but was not seated properly. He was unconscious" and did not respond to the medic's effort to revive him.
The Army has been conducting three separate investigations of Sanders' death, including one by the inspector general of its Forces Command, which oversees training.
Spokesman Stables said no changes have been ordered in the tear gas training exercises but that commanders at Carson have reemphasized the required safety measures.
Allison Sanders said yesterday that she is not satisfied with the explanations she has received to date from the Army about her husband's death and intends to order a private autopsy.
Stables said the five training deaths which occurred at Carson between Feb. 13 and Feb. 24 are the most for that short a period that he or other officials could recall, although statistics are incomplete.
Carson experienced one training death in all of 1976 and three in 1977, Stables said. These were how the other four soldiers at Carson were killed after Sanders' death:
Pvt. Ronald W. Pavia, 19, of Whittier, Calif., was killed on Feb. 15 when the truck in which he was riding overturned.
Spec. 4 Theodore J. Morgensen, 20, of Racine, Wis., and Spec. 4 Joseph L. Stone, 19, of Colorado Springs, were killed on Feb. 23 when the stepped on an antitank shell at the Carson firing range.
Pvt. Terrence L. Bontems, 20, of Phoenix, was killed Feb. 24 when a tank ran over him while he was sleeping after midnight in the training area.
The Army said the deaths of Sanders and Bontems are still under investigation.
Carson, near Colorado Springs, has about 20,000 service people on its base, with about 15,600 of that total in the 4th Infantry Division.