First responders declared her dead at the scene, KCRA reported.
“The way the person was struggling, just struggling against the wind and their body was just moving really, really fast,” Lisa Reyes, whose father and brother watched the collision happen in front of them on the freeway, told KCRA. “They’re really traumatized by what they saw right now.”
The violent death is the latest in a growing number of fatalities, casualties and accidents during excursions with the Skydive Lodi Parachute Center. Between 1999 and 2018, 16 people have died after jumping from the firm’s airplanes, KCRA reported.
Several jarring incidents at Skydive Lodi have come in recent years. In August 2016, an 18-year-old man going on his first tandem dive died after the instructor’s parachute failed to deploy. Tyler Turner’s last words on the ground were “I love you, Mom.” In May 2017, Matthew Ciancio, a veteran skydiver, died during a wingsuit base jump that allows divers to free-fall over long distances. The 42-year-old’s parachute improperly deployed and sent him spinning out of control. And last October, a woman died using her own equipment on a dive with the Lodi company.
The center’s troubles have gotten the attention of authorities. In 2016, federal regulators revealed that the instructor who died in the same tandem jump that killed Turner did not have a proper license. Last year, the FBI raided the center to confiscate waivers, receipts and video footage, the Sacramento Bee reported. The Federal Aviation Authority has previously recommended fines of just under $1 million, CBS 13 reported, because of safety failures and past accidents at Skydive Lodi.
Federal authorities recommended the fines against the company in the early 2010s after discovering its pilots had taken more than 2,000 flights in a plane equipped with unsafe parts that should have been replaced in routine maintenance. They did not, however, punish the center for employing the unlicensed instructor involved in the double fatality in 2016. FAA officials said they could have cited the instructor, if she hadn’t died, but could not fine the center for the violation, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Federal regulations have limited what FAA authorities can do after fatal incidents at the center. The agency has recommended fines for some dangerous violations, but, according to federal authorities, the owner of the skydiving company has refused to settle those cases. The FAA, in turn, has referred charges to the U.S. attorney’s office, the Bee reported.
Skydiving deaths are rare — 13 skydivers died in the U.S. last year — and the FAA typically investigates fatalities to determine whether a company incorrectly packed a parachute or made some other error during the dive.
The Skydive Lodi Parachute Center did not immediately return a request for comment early Friday.
“I drove by and saw the truck pulling over,” motorist Rich Edwards told the Sacramento Bee. “I saw a chute on the road and a bunch of people.”
Rick Costa, who regularly drives a truckload of cars down that stretch of highway for work, told KCRA he has long thought the skydiving company’s setup was dangerous.
“The way they do it, they actually fly over the freeway and come back to grass when they land,” he told the TV station. “Unless they change something, it’s only a matter of time before more and more of that happens and more people die.”
Officials did not say whether a parachute malfunction, user error or unsafe conditions caused the woman to drift off-course on Thursday afternoon, but wind speeds were fast enough to ground small planes, the newspaper reported.
Local authorities and the FAA are investigating the death, KCRA reported.