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Skydiving accident leaves 58-year-old Alabama instructor dead, one injured in St. Tammany Parish

A skydiving instructor was killed and a trainee was injured in an accident Sunday morning in Slidell.

According to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, the accident happened about 11 a.m. on the Royal Golf Course.

A preliminary investigation showed the instructor at Skydive Nawlins and the trainee performed a tandem jump, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Daniel Seuzeneau said.

For unknown reasons, the instructor lost consciousness shortly after leaving the airplane. The main parachute did not open, and it was unclear whether the reserve parachute opened properly, authorities said.

Both men hit the ground hard, witnesses said.

The instructor, identified as 58-year-old Benjamin Leroy Crowell, was pronounced dead at the scene, said James Hartman, St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office spokesman.

The trainee was airlifted to an area hospital; his condition was not immediately known.

“We still aren’t 100 percent sure exactly what happened, but so far, it appears to be a tragic accident,” Sheriff Randy Smith said.

Crowell, of Theodore, Alabama, was a passionate skydiver and had done more than 7,000 jumps, his wife of 17 years, Malinda Crowell, said when reached by phone Sunday afternoon.

“He was a good man. He was a good papa,” she said. “It’s just so sudden and so unexpected, and I’m just dumbfounded.”

Malinda Crowell said her husband, who was retired after serving for 28 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, had been skydiving for more than 20 years.

Sunday’s jump as an instructor was “just a part-time job,” she said, adding that he operated a parachute manufacturing and repair shop at their home in Alabama.

Malinda Crowell said her husband had some health problems but she was waiting to hear more from the coroner.

Because Crowell lost consciousness while in the air, Hartman said the cause of death “may not have been related to the impact,” though an exact determination has yet to be made.

A representative at Skydive Nawlins did not return a call seeking comment, but a disclaimer on the company’s website said the organization has “never experienced a major injury or fatality.”

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