Experienced Skydiver Dies During Jump

Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012  |  Updated 3:52 PM PDT
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Some call it one of the ultimate thrills. Every year roughly a half million Americans skydive for the first time, but how safe is the sport? NBC Bay Area Investigative Reporter Elyce Kirchner breaks down the safety standards.

Some call it one of the ultimate thrills. Every year roughly a half million Americans skydive for the first time, but how safe is the sport? NBC Bay Area Investigative Reporter Elyce Kirchner breaks down the safety standards.

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A man killed in a skydiving accident at the Byron Airport in  Contra Costa County on Saturday was an experienced jumper who had a lapse in  judgment, a skydiving teacher said today.
    Donald Brown, 43, of American Canyon, was attempting a maneuver  called "swooping" when he hit the ground at a high rate of speed, Bay Area  Skydiving owner and operator Clay Bonavito said.

    Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies responded to the airport at  about 7:40 p.m. Saturday, sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said. Brown was  pronounced dead at the scene.     The move Brown was attempting is a common maneuver among  experienced jumpers, Bonavito said.
    He described "swooping" as a move in which jumpers make a  high-speed turn closer to the ground in order to skim the ground as they  land.
    "It's fun for them to swoop," Bonavito said of regular jumpers.  "It's like skating on the ground before you land."
    Brown, a jumper with about 20 years of experience, was "the kind  of guy" who attempts swooping, Bonavito said.
    He said everything Brown did in his jump was executed well up  until his final turn.
    "It's unforgiving when you make a mistake," Bonavito said. "He had  a plan and he didn't stick to it. His final turn was too close to the  ground."
    At the time of the accident, Brown was wearing all the proper  materials and his equipment was functioning properly, Bonavito said.
    In his 15 years of jumping at Bay Area Skydiving, Brown never  showed poor judgment while jumping, Bonavito said. He said accidents are  rare.
    Bonavito said Bay Area Skydiving mostly deals with skydiving  students and tandem jumping. However, a small group of experienced jumpers  who congregate regularly at the drop zone have formed a tight-knit,  family-like group, he said.
    "Everyone knows everyone here," Bonavito said. "It's very  unfortunate and very sad."
    Bonavito said Brown would often go to the drop zone to jump with  friends.
    Brown is survived by his sister and mother, who live out of state,  and his fiancee, Bonavito said. He was not aware of any memorial being  planned yet.

NBC Bay Area's Elyce Kirschner did an investigation on skydiving safety. That report is at the top of the article.

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