NEWS

Michael Ungar: Canadian Skydiver Killed During Jump At California Centre Where Five Others Have Died

12/28/2011 11:10 EST | Updated 02/27/2012 05:12 EST
KABC
PERRIS, Calif. - An experienced Canadian skydiver was likely attempting a risky landing manoeuvre just before he died near a California parachuting centre, but it was a move his Ontario employer said he had pulled off before.

Michael Ungar, of Aylmer, Ont., died Tuesday afternoon at Perris Valley Skydiving after landing hard at the Riverside County sport parachuting base about 113 kilometres southeast of Los Angeles.

The Riverside County coroner and Perris police said Wednesday that Ungar was injured during a difficult high-speed aerial manoeuvre and landed in a shallow pond at 2:01 p.m.

"His friends removed him from the water. Medical personnel were summoned and cardiopulmonary resuscitation was performed," said the coroner's report. "Ungar succumbed to his injuries at the scene."

Ungar's parachute was open and he may have been attempting an aggressive "swooping" manoeuvre involving a high-speed dive to skim over the ground before landing.

The move was one the 32-year-old Canadian had attempted many times before and was hoping to carry out at competition level one day, said Tim Grech, owner of the Niagara Skydive Centre in southern Ontario where Ungar had worked for two seasons.

In Ungar's California jump however, Grech thinks his employee could have made a miscalculation.

"It's something where a second literally makes a difference between having a beautiful landing and having a tragic landing," Grech said in an interview Wednesday.

"He was definitely attempting a swoop and he had definitely done it on numerous occasions before."

Grech remembers Ungar as a personable, conscientious employee who loved his job and had been participating in the sport for about eight years.

"He was very passionate about skydiving," said Grech. "He'll be missed, it was a great loss."

As shocking as the news of Ungar's death was however, Grech said he hoped the incident wouldn't scare people away from skydiving.

"It's an unfortunate incident. I truly hope that it doesn't reflect poorly on the sport," he said. "It doesn't mean the sport's not safe."

A witness who saw Ungar's last landing said his parachute was open and he was circling as he neared the ground.

Jack Nix of Fontana told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that he knew the skydiver was in trouble when he didn't pull up or turn his body upright from parallel to the ground.

The safety director for the United States Parachuting Association said accidents occur during the swooping manoeuvre when parachutists start the move too low and the parachute doesn't have the ability to recover — or fill with air — and float the skydiver to the ground.

"It's risky because you are moving so fast," said Jim Crouch. "A lot of jumpers choose to land this way because it's exciting. But it's very unforgiving."

The adrenaline-pumping manoeuvre is a popular one which has created a "sport within a sport," he said, adding that there are swooping competitions at drop zones around the U.S.

Ungar's death was the sixth skydiving fatality at the popular Southern California facility in the past 15 months.

Skydiving centre manager Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld said the Canadian sometimes worked as an instructor at Skydive Hollister on California's Central Coast.

Ungar, who had 2,000 jumps to his credit, was visiting the Perris Valley area and had rarely, if ever, jumped at the facility, Brodsky-Chenfeld said.

Perris is regarded as one of the world's foremost facilities and has more than 140,000 jumps per year, Brodsky-Chenfeld said, which is about five per cent of the three million jumps nationally in the United States.

It has been particularly difficult year at the facility.

In April, two skydivers collided, killing Jacob Jensen, 32, of Denmark. The other man survived critical injuries.

In March, two skydivers were killed when their parachutes deflated and they fell about 90 metres.

In February, a 41-year-old Australian woman died after failing to open a backup chute.

In September 2010, a 51-year-old Russian man died after a solo jump. The man's body was not found until two months later by a farmer plowing a field. His parachutes had not been deployed.

_ With files from The Associated Press.