When licensed skydiver William “Bill” McCartin jumped out of a plane on Sunday afternoon, it started out as uneventful. McCartin had some 200 jumps until that point, but because it had been a couple of months since his last jump, he was accompanied by a coach, which is part of the FAA-approved skydiving licensing system. The jump was the final step for McCartin to again be allowed to skydive solo, but it ended in tragedy when he landed in the parking lot of the Gardiner fire department, sans his parachute harness. One nearby resident described the impact that killed the New York City resident as sounding like a “shotgun blast” in a Facebook discussion.
Instructor John Kieran had been on the plane with McCartin, but made a separate skydive after McCartin and the coach. The plane was flying at about 14,000 feet when McMartin and his coach jumped, and the two separated to give make room to open the parachutes. After Kieran landed, he saw McCartin’s chute still in the air, and didn’t immediately realized that McCartin was no longer attached to it. “We all come down at different speeds,” he explained, and the fact that McCartin had somehow slipped his harness only became clear with time.
McMartin obtained his license to skydive at Skydive the Ranch, Kieran said, and had been jumping from that location for three or four years. Without a license, any skydiving must be done using a tandem parachute with an instructor. Licenses are ranked from “A” through “D,” with D being the most advanced. It’s not clear which level license McMartin held, it could have been as high as a C, which requires a minimum of 200 jumps and demonstrated proficiency in landing within seven feet of a target and performing some aerial maneuvers.
State troopers are coordinating the search for McCartin’s harness and parachute, according to Steven Nevel, the troop F spokesman. “We are looking in a four-mile radius from the firehouse,” he said. Kieran believes that, based on weather conditions, it’s likely to be somewhere between Route 208 and Steves Lane, and probably not farther north than Phillies Bridge Road in New Paltz. The harness may be in a black pack with a “glide” label on it, according to Nevel; Kieran said that it appeared to him that McMartin’s parachute was striped and multicolored. Anyone who spots such a parachute should avoid disturbing it, and immediately call the Highland state police barracks at 691-2922. Until the parachute and harness is located, troopers are not ruling out the possibility of suicide.
Kieran agreed that any theories advanced at this time are “just speculation,” but did observe that in his 20 years as a skydiving instructor that when tragedy occurs, it usually involves a more experienced skydiver making a “series of bad decisions” during a jump. The frequency of accidents is quite low, Kieran said, but the nature of skydiving doesn’t allow much room for error. Rock climbers and downhill cyclists also occasionally die due to a “series of bad decisions,” he said, but here skydiving is more like scuba diving, in that it’s conducted in an environment inhospitable to humans.
Gardiner firefighters are reportedly assisting in the search for the parachute, and a message was left for Chief Goodnow seeking comment at the New Paltz Rescue Squad, where he is also chief. However, he has reportedly left on vacation and did not return that call in time for this story.