OTTAWA, Ill. - Two skydivers whose collision left one dead and the other injured used smaller parachutes known as "fast canopies" that left less room for error, a supervisor of the surviving North Dakota jumper says.
Investigators said Roger Nelson, 48, the owner of the Skydive Chicago center in rural Ottawa, died Saturday after a collision with another skydiver, Todd Fey, of Fargo, N.D., about 50 feet off the ground.
"In skydiving, accidents happen, and that's a risk we all take," said Rose Eakins, the owner of Skydive Hutchinson in Hutchinson, Minn., where Fey, 43, worked part time. "When you're flying fast canopies and jumping with a group of people, stuff can happen."
Fey, a Marine, was taken to Ottawa Community Hospital, but a supervisor there said Sunday he was no longer a patient. Eakins said he had suffered a broken leg and had returned to Skydive Chicago.
Nelson's death was the 14th since the skydiving center opened in 1993, with 10 of the deaths in the last five years.
"The thing that comes to mind is, why don't they shut the place down?" asked Don Smith of Princeton, whose son, Steven, and another jumper died Oct. 6, 2001, when their parachutes became entangled during a group exercise with 20 jumpers.
Authorities investigated Skydive Chicago earlier and concluded they had no reason to try to shutter it.
General Manager Donovan Bartlett, whose fiancee died during a jump, declined to comment in detail on the weekend collision.
"There's a great loss today, and that's all that needs to be said," Bartlett said Sunday.
"The place is phenomenal," said Eakins, whose daughter and son-in-law honeymooned there. "Roger Nelson is an icon in his business."
Terry Murray of Evergreen Park, a former employee at Skydive Chicago, questioned the safety practices of Nelson and his center.
"When you're jumping that small, that fast, that radical, you've got to give yourself more of an out for landing and not come whipping in between people, which he did on a regular basis," Murray said.
Murray also said Skydive Chicago had problems with drug use.
One man who died last July 14 while trying to skim across a small pond had smoked marijuana two hours or less before his death, according to the LaSalle County coroner. Authorities said another man who fell to his death Oct. 14, 2001, when his chute malfunctioned, had used the drug Ecstasy and had trace amounts of marijuana and cocaine in his system.
Nelson, the captain of the U.S. skydiving team in 1982, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1987 after pleading guilty to running an international drug smuggling ring.
Skydive Chicago is one of the nation's largest skydiving operations with about 75,000 jumps a year.
"Skydiving is a very unforgiving sport if something goes wrong," said LaSalle County Coroner Jody Bernard. "That could happen to anyone, even if they had a lot of experience. Obviously I've been out there a number of times, and I have not seen any blatant disregard for safety."