An expert skydive instructor with a passion for adventure and a love of life was killed after a hard landing at the Skydive San Diego facility in Jamul, California, Friday when his parachute failed.
The experienced parachutist - identified by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office as Andrei Penz, 30 – jumped at 1:30 p.m. at the facility on 13531 Otay Lakes Road, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
A witness watching from below told officials that as the man got closer to the ground, they could see him moving the parachute's toggles. However, it did not slow him down, and he hit the ground hard.
The witness said the parachute appeared to be partially collapsed upon the skydiver's approach to the ground.
Paramedics and a medical chopper were called in, and despite CPR efforts, they were not able to revive the victim.
Penz was working as a contracted skydive instructor at Skydive San Diego.
Buzz Fink, owner of Skydive San Diego, told NBC 7 the charismatic Penz was a master of his craft and was loved by many.
“Andrei was a great guy. He loved skydiving. He loved his fellow skydivers. He loved the sport; he loved adventure. He loved life,” said Fink.
Fink said Penz was a senior parachute rigger with the Federal Aviation Administration and was able to work on his own parachutes. He had been working on his equipment before the accident and Fink said there was an issue with how the parachute’s line length was “trimmed,” which impacted how it flew.
When Penz came in for turns, the parachute wasn’t working as smoothly as it should have been, Fink said.
“When he came in yesterday to land, for some reason, as he turned, the entire parachute turned underneath itself and collapsed, so he ended up falling over 100 feet,” Fink explained.
Fink said Penz had logged more than 1,500 jumps a year for the past several years and was an “extremely experienced, expert skydiver and instructor.”
Unfortunately, Fink said, more experience often means more accidents in the world of skydiving.
“In the sport of skydiving, generally the injuries and accidents are with the more highly-experienced skydivers because the more experience you get, the smaller canopy you get, and the faster you go,” he explained.
However, with more experience, comes more expertise when it comes to handling parachutes, Fink added.
He said this accident had nothing to do with Penz’s skills, rather an equipment malfunction that ended in tragedy.
“Andrei was an expert canopy pilot. He did not do anything wrong: he did not set up his approach wrong, he did not turn wrong. It happened to be something with the equipment he had on at the time that happened to fail on him. That’s what caused it. It was not his skills. He was an expert parachutist,” Fink said.
Fink said most of Penz’s family lives in Brazil, but he does leave behind a girlfriend and sister in San Diego.
Besides skydiving, Penz loved to surf, hike and travel.
“He would do a little bit of everything. He just lived life to the fullest,” Fink said. “I think [skydiving] made him feel alive, jumping out of an airplane at 120 mph, feeling the rush of the air in your face.”
Fink said fellow jumpers and his company will work together with the victim’s family to plan a memorial service down the line.
He assured skydiving is a safe sport – more so, in his opinion, than driving a car.
“I feel safer doing a tandem skydive than I would driving on the road. I do think the most dangerous part is actually driving to and from the skydiving center. When done right, [skydiving] is very safe,” he said.
Skydive San Diego does approximately 16,000 tandem jumps a year in San Diego.