Roger Nelson dies after canopy collision
OTTAWA, Ill. -- Skydiving center owner Roger Nelson, whose Skydive Chicago had been criticized for a high number of fatalities in recent years, has died in a parachute accident. Nelson, 48, was parachuting Saturday with Todd Fey, 43, of Fargo, N.D., when Fey bumped into into Nelson's parachute, causing it to collapse, investigators said. Nelson then fell about 50 feet, said Sgt. Gregory Jacobson of the LaSalle County Sheriff's police.
The sheriff's Office said Nelson was taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria and pronounced dead early Saturday evening.
Fey was being treated at Ottawa Community Hospital, where a hospital spokeswoman would not disclose his condition early Sunday.
Nelson's death was the 14th at Skydive Chicago since the facility opened in 1993. It is one of the nation's largest skydiving operations with about 75,000 jumps a year.
"Skydiving is a very unforgiving sport if something goes wrong," said LaSalle County Coroner Jody Bernard. "That could happen to anyone, even if they had a lot of experience. Obviously I've been out there a number of times, and I have not seen any blatant disregard for safety."
Nonetheless, 11 of the deaths at Skydive Chicago, including Nelson's, have occurred in the past five years, making its fatality rate in some recent years as much as eight times the national average, which the U.S. Parachute Association estimates as 1 in 111,000 jumps.
Those numbers spurred LaSalle County State's Attorney Joe Hettel to investigate Skydive Chicago in 2001, but he concluded there was nothing he could do.
"If someone wants to jump out of an airplane, there's not much we can do about it," Hettel said last year.
Nelson said at the time of Hettel's investigation that the ten jumpers who had died since 1998 were all using their own parachutes and "pushing the envelope" in their behavior.
Nelson said reckless skydivers, not Skydive Chicago or its instructors, that led to the accidents.
"I'm doing everything I can," he said. "This whole place is careful, to where we're not tolerating any unsafe behavior."
Nelson was captain of the U.S. Olympic skydiving team in 1982, and served as a director of the U.S. Parachute Association.
On June 16 there was a memorial skydiving jump and service for Nelson who's family members have said they plan to keep SkyDive Chicago open.
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