Everything was arranged this weekend for a granddaughter to give her grandmother a special present in honor of her 75th birthday. But the day became memorable for a completely different – and tragic – reason altogether.
The 75-year old woman died on Sunday during a skydiving session at Mesquite Airport in Clark County near the Nevada-Arizona border. Both the parachute and the reserve chute which she was wearing failed to open during her freefall. Her instructor and tandem partner, a 60-year old longtime skydiver, also died in the accident.
Investigators are trying to determine why both chutes failed to deploy correctly. After the main chute failed to open, the reserve chute reportedly got tangled in the main chute and did not deploy fully. Officials are looking at the Cessna and its flight route as well as whether the parachutes had been inspected and rigged properly.
The incident is unusual for several reasons. For one thing, the chances of a fatal skydiving accident taking place (statistically speaking) are approximately 1 in 16,700. Furthermore, the 60-year old instructor had logged over 11,000 successful jumps in his 30-year career as a skydiver. In fact, his skills were showcased in the 1992 film "Honeymoon in Vegas" as one of numerous "flying Elvises" who skydived onto the Strip in Las Vegas.
Even though the 75-year old woman undoubtedly signed a release form before her jump, the waiver of liability will probably not shield the skydiving company from a wrongful death lawsuit by her husband. Those waivers are sometimes effective enough in cases of minor discomfort or injury, such as when a customer suffers nausea from vertigo or lacerations from the parachute straps. But in the past, courts have recognized that skydivers have an expectation of not dying during a jump – so a signed waiver would not absolve a skydiving company from liability.