A veteran skydiver fell to his death outside a skydiving facility in northern California on Wednesday after his parachute failed to properly deploy.
Matthew Ciancio, 42, was undertaking a 13,000-foot jump with several other skydivers at the Lodi Parachute Center in Acampo, Calif., officials from the Federal Aviation Administration told the Sacramento Bee. The group was flying in formation in wingsuits, specialized jumpsuits with wings under the arms and between the legs.
When Ciancio tried to release his main parachute at about 4,000 feet, he started spinning uncontrollably, according to Bill Dause, a spokesman for the Lodi Parachute Center. As Ciancio plummeted toward the ground, Dause said, he tried to cast off the parachute at “an extremely low altitude.”
The emergency parachute didn’t deploy, and Ciancio crashed in a vineyard about a mile north of the Lodi Airport.
“I watched him dangle under his canopy unresponsive, not trying to fight it and just tumbled down and down,” Gwillym Hewetson, one of Ciancio’s skydiving partners, told KCRA 3.
Hewetson said Ciancio was skilled in wingsuit base jumping, an extreme form of skydiving that involves free-falling over long distances in the flying-squirrel-like suits. He said Ciancio may have experienced a “hard open,” a whiplash effect that happens when a parachute deploys at a high speed.
“It can happen to any skydiver depending on how they pack their canopy,” he told KCRA 3. “You’re going 120 miles an hour and for that to be stopped in an instant gives your body a huge shock.”
The FAA said it was investigating Ciancio’s death. The agency has not determined what caused the crash, according to the Associated Press.
Dause, the Lodi Parachute Center’s spokesman, said Ciancio was visiting the center and had completed several jumps in the past week. He didn’t follow “proper emergency procedure” during his fatal jump, Dause told the Sacramento Bee.
“He waited too long to get rid of the bad parachute,” he said.
“We feel bad about the family and the people (the skydivers) leave behind,” Dause told KCRA 3. “But other than furnishing the aircraft for them to use, we didn’t pack the parachute, we didn’t train them, we didn’t give them the equipment, in this case. Does it make it right? No. Do we feel bad? Of course we feel bad.”
The Lodi Parachute Center has a history of fatal accidents. There have been 13 deaths connected to the center between 1999 and 2016, according to KCRA 3.
Last February, a skydiver died at the center after an apparent parachute malfunction caused him to slam into a cinder block wall and fall into a drainage ditch during his descent.
In May 2016, a skydiving plane carrying 18 people took off from the center and crash landed upside-down in a nearby vineyard after its engine malfunctioned. The pilot suffered a minor injury, and none of the passengers were hurt, as the Sacramento Bee reported at the time.
In August, a skydiving instructor with the center and a first-time parachuter died in a tandem jump after their parachute failed to deploy. The U.S. Parachute Association, the only federally recognized organization that licenses skydivers, reported after the accident that it had never issued the instructor a license.
Nationwide, 21 people were killed in skydiving accidents in 2015 out of an estimated 3.5 million jumps, according to the USPA. The rate of skydiving fatalities has fallen over the past 15 years, even as more people have taken up the high-adrenaline sport, the association says.
Ciancio had been living in June Lake, Calif., since 1995 and was working as an X-ray technician at a local hospital when he died, according to his family. His brother, Brian Ciancio, told the Sacramento Bee he was a longtime rock climber, snowboarder and dirt bike rider, and had taken up skydiving over the past decade.