ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. — Zephyrhills police have identified the skydiver that died Sunday afternoon following a hard landing as Joshua Butzke, 26, from Connecticut.
Butzke is the latest fatality at Skydive City following the Nov. 13 death of Kurt A. Tracy, 36. Tracy died after his parachute and backup failed to open, according to General Manager of the facility TK Hayes.
"They hit the ground at full speed and were killed on impact, instantly," said General Manager TK Hayes.
Hayes says neither the main parachute or reserve were pulled.
“It rattles people, that is a bad statistical run for us we are not normally like that,” Hayes said. “It sure wakes people up around the drop zone. The sport is serious and small problems can turn into big ones quickly.”
Butzke was relatively new to skydiving. Experienced jumpers will have as many as 5,000 to 10,000 jumps under their belt. Hayes said Butzke had 85 recorded jumps. He made 13 of those at Skydive City, according to Hayes.
“We provide the airplane rides for you and you can go have some fun but having said that as well when you do stupid stuff we have Safety people we go talk to you and will ground you if you are really being reckless,” Hayes said.
They don’t have an exact cause for the hard landing that claimed Butzke’s life but believe he had some sort of equipment failure.
”He deployed his parachute at a normal altitude, he was flying straight. Somewhere, around we guess, 800 to a thousand feet the parachute began a very very steep spiral all the way to the ground. He was he dealing with a problem with the left toggle,” Hayes said. “That parachute was in a very severe left diving turn when he hit the ground. And we know that he entered into that for four or five revolutions which doesn’t automatically happen on its own. We are pretty sure he was dealing with some kind of problem.”
Hayes said Butzke hit the ground at a high rate of speed. He was immediately rushed to an area hospital where he died a short time later.
Zephyrhills police said the accident is still under investigation. The Federal Aviation Administration will send someone out to Skydive City to make sure there were no issues with his plane.
The United States Parachute Association said most of the deaths each year are preventable.
Out of nearly 4 million jumps in 2017 there were 24 deaths. In 2016, there were also 24 deaths.
“Sometimes they (skydivers) make mistakes an injury or fatality can occur and it’s not really reflective of the oversight of the skydiving center itself,” Jim Crouch the Director of Safety and Training at US Parachute Association said. There is a strange phenomenon where there might be 2 or even 3 fatalities close together and then nothing for years it’s a very odd phenomenon how this occurs.”
Hayes said, in two decades of business, they have never had a fatality involving a tandem jump. Most fatalities are from a license skydiver that made mistakes. The three most common, according to Crouch, are coming into a landing a high speed, called a high performance landing. Other errors are incorrect emergency operations when something does go wrong, and also altitude awareness. Skydivers die or are seriously injured if they open their parachute too late.
Industry wide, Crouch says there are a lot of regulations and safeguards. In 2016, out of nearly 4 million jumps there were only 2,000 self reported injuries according to the USPA.
“They (licensed skydivers) are not really looked over as closely as students or tandem or the aircraft of the business,” Crouch said.
Monday afternoon the fatality, the skies about Skydive City were filled with people parachuting down to the ground below.
We spoke to Nelly Melendez who took the plunge on her 30th Birthday. She was aware of the risks and the two recent fatalities.
“My condolences to the family it’s not easy,” Melendez said. “Big 30. It’s my birthday, go big or go home. This is something I wanted to do for a long time I had to do for me mark it off my bucket list.”