Authorities investigate another death at Skydive Chicago
OTTAWA, Ill. (AP) -- Authorities were investigating a death involving an Illinois skydiving club Monday after a 33-year-old man was killed over the weekend in the sixth fatal accident at the club in a little more than a year.
Ronald Passmore Jr. of Butler, Ind., was jumping with Skydive Chicago on Sunday afternoon when he tried to land in a pond but struck the water too hard, LaSalle County Coroner Jody Bernard said.
Several people pulled Passmore from the water, and he was taken to Ottawa Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The accident happened near Ottawa, which is about 70 miles southwest of Chicago.
"His parachute was fully deployed; it was just a matter of a hard landing," Bernard said.
She said Passmore was an expert skydiver who had made frequent jumps with Skydive Chicago.
An autopsy was to be performed Monday including toxicology tests that will determine if Passmore had drugs or alcohol in his system. Results from those tests will be available in four to six weeks, Bernard said.
The LaSalle County Sheriff's Department was investigating the death, the sixth fatality at Skydive Chicago since July 9, 2001. The last one occurred May 18 when 28-year-old Skydive Chicago instructor John Faulkner plunged to his death after his parachute failed to open.
Sheriff Tom Templeton said interviews would be conducted with witnesses and other participants in the dive, and the Federal Aviation Administration would check Passmore's equipment.
He said investigations into other deaths at Skydive Chicago turned up no criminal activity and were all ruled accidents.
"I guess it's the peril of the sport," Templeton said. "It's an inherently dangerous sport."
LaSalle County State's Attorney Joe Hettel echoed Templeton, adding that he found the deaths "disconcerting."
"This is literally happening right outside my window. I see people jumping all the time," he said. "It's frustrating to have these things happening. ... (But) absent some changes in law there's nothing that can be done by law enforcement."
Bernard said she wasn't alarmed by the string of recent deaths. The club is one of the nation's largest skydiving operations, with about 75,000 jumps a year.
"I think you have to put it into perspective," Bernard said. "The percentages are actually very low when you put it all together."
Still, the fatality rate at Skydive Chicago is much higher than the national average. According to the U.S. Parachute Association, there are about 30 skydiving deaths per year in the United States. With more than 3 million jumps annually, that's a rate of 1 death in 110,000 jumps.
Skydive Chicago owner Roger Nelson did not return calls for comment Monday.
The sport's sanctioning body, the U.S. Parachute Association, normally inquires about deaths and can withdraw its sanction of clubs and schools. The group's executive director was returning from a board meeting held over the weekend at Skydive Chicago and was unavailable to comment Monday.