A second skydiver died in the past week when a Gardiner resident, 41-year-old David Richardson, succumbed to injuries from a “hard landing” at Skydive the Ranch on July 5.
Instructor John Kieran said that police reports about the circumstances surrounding the death of Richardson inaccurately claimed he was attempting a “swoop landing,” a demanding technique that can result in impressive aerial acrobatics. “No one talked to us” about it, Kieran said. “It was a somewhat normal approach, and a hard landing. There were other mitigating circumstances. It will be some time before we are comfortable saying anything more.”
After Richardson’s “hard landing” near 55 Sand Hill Road, he was transported by helicopter to Westchester Medical Center, where he died.
Diver slips his harness
When licensed skydiver William “Bill” McCartin jumped out of a plane on Sunday afternoon, June 28, it started out as uneventful. McCartin had some 200 jumps until that point. 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. It ended in tragedy when he landed in the parking lot of the Gardiner fire department without his parachute harness. in a Facebook discussion, one nearby resident described the impact that killed the New York City resident as sounding like “a shotgun blast.”
Instructor 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 realize that McCartin was no longer attached to it. “We all come down at different speeds,” he explained. 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.
A series of bad decisions
Kieran believes that, based on weather conditions, the harness is 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 are located, troopers are not ruling out the possibility of suicide.
Kieran stressed that theories advanced at this time are “just speculation,” but did observe that in his 20 years as a skydiving instructor that tragedies most often occur when more experienced skydivers make “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 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 McMartin parachute.