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6 skydiver deaths in a year underscore danger of high-risk maneuvers

February 22, 2012 |  6:49 am

Swooping

The death of a veteran skydiver on Saturday underscores the potential danger of high-risk maneuvers performed by the elite of the sport.

Sean Carey, a skydiving instructor, died while doing a "swooping" maneuver Saturday. He was the sixth highly experienced diver to be killed in the last year at Perris Valley Skydiving, one of the largest and most popular such facilities in the nation.

Video: Swooping over Perris, California 2005

The deaths reflect a divergent nationwide trend in the sport: Equipment upgrades and safety rules have reduced overall skydiving fatalities among novices, but smaller, more aerodynamically designed parachutes have allowed more experienced divers to take more risks.

Increasingly, industry veterans said, fatal accidents involve experts attempting advanced maneuvers with high-performance equipment -- people such as Carey, who, according to his employer, averaged 1,800 jumps a year and had won previous swooping competitions.

Last December, another experienced canopy pilot, as they are known, died making a landing error while swooping at Perris. The facility temporarily suspended swooping while it conducted a review of safety procedures.

The company's general manager, Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, said he found that Perris' safety standards were as high as or higher than other facilities' but that he further tightened requirements.

The facility had already required that before attempting a high-performance maneuver, a skydiver had to have made at least 700 jumps. After the December fatality, it added a requirement that divers receive special training before attempting swooping.

In the wake of Carey's death, Brodsky-Chenfeld said he is again reviewing the standards.

High-risk maneuvers are clearly attracting interest among top skydivers. Among the other daredevil moves is wingsuit flying, in which people glide across the sky in jumpsuits with fabric "wings" before deploying a parachute. Another is vertical formation skydiving, in which groups of skydivers grip one another's limbs, their heads or feet pointed to the ground.

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-- Abby Sewell

Photo: J.C. Colclasure, left, and Clint Clawson perform freestyle moves while "swooping" a pond at Perris Valley Skydiving in Perris on March 30, 2005. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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