Instructor honored posthumously for saving student
PITTSBURGH -- Robert Bonadies was falling at a rate of about 176 feet per second when he grasped the rip cord of a student who had tumbled out of control, saving her life and sacrificing his own. Bonadies, 47, of Vernon, Conn., was one of 21 people honored Thursday by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, established in 1904 to recognize human courage under extreme conditions.
He died on May 6, 2002 while instructing students at Connecticut Parachutists, Inc., near Hartford, Conn.
Bonadies, called Bobo by friends and family, was passionate about skydiving and running. His wake was attended by an estimated 4,000 people from both communities, including those he had taught to jump from planes and finish marathons.
The wake lasted more than five hours, said his friend and fellow instructor at Connecticut Parachutists, Inc., Don Semon.
"The circumstances were pretty shocking for everybody, but in this type of work, things happen quickly," Semon said. "Certain people act in certain ways."
Bonadies was performing an "accelerated free fall" from 12,000 feet with another instructor and two students, Semon said.
The student began to tumble around 5,500 feet and was unable to activate her chute, authorities said.
"The procedure is, at 2,000 feet, if a student's canopy is not open, you open your own chute and look out for yourself," Semon said. "You've done everything you can."
Bonadies stuck by his student as she hurtled toward the earth until he was able to activate her chute, enabling her to touch down safely, witnesses said.
Traveling at 120 mph, it was only seconds before Bonadies was killed.
He had been diving since the mid-1970s and was a veteran of more than 2,700 jumps, Semon said.
Bonadies was one of five people honored with the Carnegie Medal posthumously. He is survived by his wife, Lisa and two teenage children.
Also honored Thursday was Michael K. Daley, of Mount Washington, Ky. Daley, 47, a salesman, squeezed under the cabin of a tractor-trailer that had caught fire, trapping a woman inside.
Daley suffered first-degree burns while pulling the woman from the fiery wreck in Jeffersontown, Ky., on Feb. 5, 2002. The woman spent five months in a hospital recovering from extensive burns.
Another medal recipient was 46-year-old firefighter Jerome F. Fryer, of Hamburg, N.J.
Fryer ran from his station during a shootout in March 2001 to aid a police officer who lay wounded just outside.
With police exchanging fire with two men, Fryer helped the officer to the station where he and other firefighters treated him for a gunshot wound to the leg until further medical help arrived.
Industrialist Andrew Carnegie started the hero fund after being inspired by rescue stories from a mine disaster that killed 181 people.
Awards are given only to those the commission feels risked their life to an extraordinary degree in attempting to save the life of another in the United States or Canada. On-duty emergency workers and police are not honored unless their actions are clearly beyond the call of duty.
The awards, bronze medals that come with $3,500 for the honorees or their survivors, are issued five times a year.
About $26.4 million has been issued in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits and continuing assistance over 99 years.
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