A quadriplegic skydiver died in a tragic weekend accident when his disability prevented him from manually deploying his parachute. His emergency chute was also not set to automatically release, said officials on Monday.
Zack Fogle, 27, plunged 18,000 feet to his death on Saturday when his parachute did not open during a jump at a skydiving festival in northwestern Montana.
Fogle, who had completed more than 125 jumps in the past five years, was participating at the 44th annual Lost Prairie Boogie, a popular 10-day skydiving event near Marion. He had a custom-built parachute with handles that were located where he could operate them with his hands. The incident happened on Fogle's first jump, when he and seven others took the plunge from the plane. Someone assisted Fogle out of the airplane, according to Undersheriff Jordan White. Fogle apparently landed on his back, hitting the ground at an estimated 120 miles per hour.
Investigators drew their conclusions from video of Fogle and statements by skydiving partners. White said Fogle's death has been ruled an accident, dispelling widespread rumors of a suicide wish.
'Zack died with another jump pass in his pocket,' said White.
'He was living his dream.'
'His was an incredible story of his drive to live and to excel in this sport despite being disabled from an (auto-mobile) accident when he was a junior in high school.'
Fogle failed to deploy his primary or emergency parachutes and the emergency deployment mechanism that would have released his emergency chute.
The Federal Aviation Authority requires that the pre-jump activation of the emergency parachute be inspected every six months by an FAA-certified rigger. However, this requires complicated sequencing, which Fogle may have overlooked. Moreover, evidence suggests that Fogle might have been under the notion that he had triggered the mechanism in the field before he got on the plane for the jump, which was overseen by a safety adviser at the door of the aircraft, officials said.
Skydivers can manually deploy reserve chutes mid-fall, but physical challenges likely prevented Fogle from taking advantage of what is considered a last-ditch but fail-safe practice, said White, a licensed pilot.
Fogle, also could have experienced spatial disorientation, preventing him from realizing how close the ground was before it was too late, added White.
'His equipment was determined to be current in inspections and service and was in proper working order,' Sheriff Chuck Curry said in a news release.
An FAA investigation is under way and will likely take weeks, agency spokesman Allen Kenitzer said Monday.
Improvements in equipment and training are credited for an overall decline in U.S. skydiving deaths, numbering 21 last year, according to the United States Parachute Association.
While the accident was highly tragic Fogle's friends believe he died doing what he loved. Fogle's life is summed up very aptly in his "favorite quotations" on Facebook -
"Live to the point of tears."
"Remember, Zack, if you can't be safe, be spectacular" - Pete Swan