Skydivers' chutes tangle in midair, killing two

March 3, 2011 3:44:29 PM PST
We are learning more about the tragic accident that killed two avid skydivers Wednesday morning. The two men died after their parachutes became tangled during a jump at Skydive Spaceland in Rosharon. It is the fourth accident spread out over 10 years at the facility in Rosharon, but this one claimed two lives. According to the son of one of the men who died, his father loved skydiving and was aware of the risks involved. It was, he says, a tragic accident.

For a skydiver, this is a dream location with more than a hundred acres of land on which to land after parachuting out of a jump plane. Skydive Spaceland boasts 50,000 jumps a year, from tandem jumps for beginners to competition jumping by professionals.

On Wednesday morning, on a perfect day, a plane took a group of jumpers up. The last two to leave the plane were in larger, slower chutes. A few minutes later they were in trouble and it cost their lives.

Lee McMillian with Skydive Spaceland said, "I have a pretty good idea of what happened and what happened was these two experienced jumpers exited the aircraft in a normal manner, had the freefall portions of their jumps pass normally, and on final approach to the target collided under canopy."

In other words, they got too close in the air and their chutes became entangled, with both men falling 200 feet to the ground. Arthur Bill, 63, died at the scene. Scott James, 27, died at a hospital. Both men had more than 20 jumps each -- well past the tandem teaching stage.

"They'd finished their training and were beginning to progress toward expert status," McMillian said.

Why they failed to maneuver away from each other is a mystery. But it serves as a reminder that skydiving, while it may be exhilarating, also carries an inherit risk that a mistake in the air can be fatal.

According to industry statistics, about 30 people die in skydiving accidents a year out of hundreds of thousands of jumps.