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Navy SEAL dies in Parachuting Accident

LAKE ELSINORE -- A Navy SEAL from Chula Vista practicing a freefall sky diving technique died during a training exercise Wednesday when his chute appeared to malfunction.

Michael Bearden, 27, apparently died upon impact after falling into the Lake Elsinore flood plain in Riverside County, less than a mile from Skylark Airport.

He was practicing accelerated freefall techniques at a civilian sky diving area, according to Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Alderson.

The Navy Special Warfare Command is investigating. Riverside County coroners are treating his death as an accident.

The unit was working on earning the necessary freefall qualifications to be a SEAL, Alderson said.

A witness told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that it appeared Bearden's main chute had become tangled with a secondary chute.

Steven Stetzel, who lives in a nearby housing tract, told the Press-Enterprise that he immediately called 911 after seeing the man plummet to earth. He rushed to the airport to report what had happened.

Another SEAL from the group training with Bearden landed less than a minute after and tried to perform CPR, but investigators say the man almost certainly died on impact.

The Riverside County Sheriff's/Coroner's Office is treating his death as accidental.

Bearden is the third person to die in a skydiving accident in Lake Elsinore in the past four years, according to the Press-Enterprise.

One of those deaths occurred after a skydiver got caught in one of the many "dust devils," columns of swirling wind and dust, that appear on the flood plain throughout the summer.

The Corondao-based SEAL Team Five would continue its sky diving training, authorities said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report




By on 2000-07-18 | Last Modified on 2004-06-03

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