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Authorities investigate Florida sky diving accident

Two men are dead following a sky diving accident in Florida in which their parachutes reportedly failed to open, according to the company that oversaw the jumps. Police have yet to confirm parachute failure as the cause of the deaths, however, and are currently awaiting the results of autopsies. Investigators will also likely examine footage from the divers' helmet-mounted camera to learn more about what may have prompted the fatal accident.

The two victims were foreign sky divers visiting Florida on vacation. Unlike car or motorcycle accidents, where usually a driver is at fault, sky divers are typically considered liable for any accidents that occur while jumping, meaning that victims should have been required to sign waivers purging the sky diving facility from liability. While they would not be entitled to liability insurance coverage, the victims' families could potentially seek damages from the facility, the manufacturer of the faulty parachutes or another party with a wrongful death lawsuit.

The manager of the sky diving facility stressed that a parachute malfunction was the cause of the accident, arguing that jumpers' backup parachutes released but never inflated. He denied speculation that harsh weather conditions were a factor in the accident.

Authorities are still assessing whether the facility may have violated a law or federal regulation and plan to contact the Federal Aviation Administration for help with the investigation. A police representative said the FAA will conduct an evaluation of the facility's plane and sky diving equipment to ensure they comply with all pursuant safety rules.

According to the U.S. Parachute Association, 2012 saw a total of 19 sky diving deaths. At least 15 diving fatalities in the same region of Florida where the recent accident occurred have been reported since 1991. The area remains a popular destination for sky divers around the world and hosts an annual sky diving festival, which organizers say will continue despite the accident.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Investigation of Skydive City deaths looks at gear, helmet cam," Caitlin Johnston and Rich Shopes, March 24, 2013

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