Officials investigate fatal ‘freak’ skydiving accident

A Boardman father of two and a Brunswick woman were killed.

By Peter H. Milliken

PARKMAN — The tandem skydive that killed Daniel R. Mathie, 30, of Boardman, a skydiving instructor and veteran of more than 4,000 jumps, and Sierra A. Thomas, 22, of Brunswick, who was making her first jump, was “a freak accident,” according to the president of the 52-year-old club that sponsored the jump.

“It was definitely something that the guy couldn’t manage. It was something out of the ordinary,” said Mike Gates, president of the Cleveland Parachute Center Inc. in Parkman.

The cause of the accident is undetermined, Gates said, adding that he won’t be able to determine what happened until he reviews video of the jump. “Whatever it was, it incapacitated him,” and prevented him from releasing a backup parachute, Gates said.

“He was the best of the best. He had every rating there was,” said Gates, who had known Mathie since Mathie was 17.

“I loved him like he was my brother,” Gates said. Mathie, of Trenholm Road, was the married father of two young boys, Gates said. “The only thing he loved more than the sport was his kids,” Gates observed.

The jump occurred about a half hour before sunset, and Portage County Sheriff David W. Doak said his office was called to the landing scene in a field behind a residence along state Route 88 about 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Sharing the same parachute, Mathie and Thomas had jumped from a plane that took off from the club, which is located on Grove Road in Geauga County.

“His parachute was fully open and it was turning slowly,” said Gates, who was participating in a tandem jump from the same plane.

However, the sheriff said, after Mathie opened the parachute: “The canopy did not fully open, and it began to spiral.”

Mathie and Thomas jumped from the plane at an altitude of about 8,000 feet, he said.

“The exit was uneventful. They made no contact with the aircraft,” Doak said.

As for the cause of the accident, the sheriff said: “We’re not sure, but we think it may have something to do with the cord lines on the chute, and it put them into a spiral, and that intensified, and they kept spiraling all the way to the ground. Centrifugal force may have played some part in it.” The accident is still under investigation, the sheriff added.

“We lost two of the nicest people on the planet. It was tragic,” said Gates, who expressed his condolences to both families.

“Nobody hears about the millions of good skydives that happen every year in the United States,” Gates said, adding that “just the bad ones” get disproportionate attention.

Founded in 1957, the club uses the slogan “where safety soars” on its web site.

It boasts “the area’s most experienced jumpmasters,’’ a 150-acre private airport, and spectacular views of the Lake Erie shoreline from the planes it uses.

Gates is a commercial pilot and a veteran of more than 2,500 jumps, who began skydiving in 1979 when he was 15 years old. On the club’s web site, Gates said he has instructed tens of thousands of students, who have made safe jumps.

In April 2006, Bob Magnuson, assistant Canfield police chief, died in a skydiving accident at the same Parkman facility.

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