FAA completes investigation into 2019 skydiving death at Grand Canyon
TUSAYAN, Ariz. — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has completed its investigation into the 2019 skydiving death of a U.K. man.
The incident occurred in September 2019, when, according to Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, the tandem skydive encountered difficulties during landing. These difficulties caused the pair to free-fall for an unknown distance and hit the ground in what was described as a “hard landing.”
CPR lifesaving efforts were performed by paramedics on scene, however, Christopher Swales, 55, was later pronounced deceased by doctors at Flagstaff Medical Center. The tandem pilot suffered a broken leg. Following protocol, an investigation by the FAA was launched into the details surrounding the accident.
According to Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA, the FAA were unable to determine a cause for the accident.
“We were unable to conclusively determine a cause for this accident, which occurred during strong, gusty wind condition,” he said.
According to Gregor, witnesses said the instructor and student began falling at a rapid rate when they were about 50 to 60 feet above the ground.
“An FAA safety inspector examined the parachute and found no tangled lines and no degraded components,” Gregor said. “The inspector also determined the parachute was packed by the appropriately qualified person.”
Paragon Skydiving has operated at Grand Canyon National Park Airport, located just outside the national park entrance, since 2016.
Before getting clearance from the FAA, Paragon owners said they underwent strict procedures and were analyzed by both the FAA and United States Parachute Association (USPA) before receiving operational clearance.
In 2016, Paragon stated that for successful tandem skydives, the company needed around 10 people on the ground to help with communications and packing parachutes in addition to front desk personnel and pilots for each jump.
Earlier this year, Paragon stated that it had struggled with bookings since the death.
“I definitely think it has made an impact on (bookings),” said Jodie Taylor, marketing director for Paragon. “That is a scary thing for people to read about or even hear about.”
Taylor said Paragon has taken steps to improve landings for skydivers and said the company now has a custom-designed landing area, made out of recycled car tires, shredded up to make a soft landing pit.
“This gives our customer a nice soft landing for their skydive experience,” she said. “We are the only drop (site) in the world to have this custom-designed landing pit.”
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