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Tragedy Ends Skydive Effort

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Man dies, another injured after collision

DAYTON TOWNSHIP -- The death of a Missoula, Mont., skydiver and the serious injury of another Sunday ended Skydive Chicago's attempt to break the world record for the number of skydivers in a free-fall formation.

Paul L. Adams, 54, died during a mid-air collision with Kenneth Reed, 22, of Holts Summit, Mo., during an 10:30 a.m. jump, the 22nd jump record attempt.

Reed was taken to Community Hospital of Ottawa, and was later airlifted to OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, where he remains in critical condition this morning.

Sunday was the last day for the skydivers to break the record -- they had been attempting since Aug. 13, and had scheduled 24 jumps.

The accident is being investigated by the La Salle County Sheriff's Department and the La Salle County Coroner's Office.

"Unfortunately, on this jump, people from two different waves somehow crossed," said Roger Nelson, Skydive Chicago program director and jump participant. "We've had no problem on the other jumps."

The decision was made after the accident to stop the world record attempt.

The skydivers began to open their parachutes at about 7,500 feet, according to Nelson. Chutes are opened in "waves," meaning skydivers from the outer, middle, and inner rings of the flower-shaped formation open at different times and altitudes to avoid collisions.

Adams opened his parachute first, and immediately struck Reed, Nelson said. Reed's parachute opened, and their passengers floated to the ground. Both divers were equipped with devices to automatically open the parachutes at a preset altitude.

Adams was reported missing shortly after the jump. Each skydiver is required to check in immediately with a captain after landing to maintain accountability in the record attempt. The collision was spotted by another diver, who reported it to a ground medic.

Adams' body was located by a spotter plane carrying Nelson, who jumped from the plane and landed near Adams' body in a cornfield off the runway.

Nelson began yelling during the descent that he found Adams, said Sheriff Thomas Templeton. Nelson separated from his parachute and ran toward Adams. Adams was pronounced dead at the scene at 12:24 p.m., said La Salle County Coroner Jody Bernard. An autopsy is scheduled for later today. Bernard did not know if Adams was killed in the collision, but said at a minimum he was knocked unconscious.

Reed was located before Adams. He was found in a soybean field about 350 yards west of East 19th Road, Templeton said.

The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the accident, Nelson said, and examine the equipment used by the skydivers. Nelson said that the equipment Adams used is in perfect working condition, and that the accident wasn't anybody's fault.

The death marks the seventh since Skydive Chicago moved to its present location in 1993.


Victim `had passion for skydiving'

Paul Adams planned to take Amber Taylor and her roommate -- who rented the basement of his Missoula, Mont., home -- skydiving with him when he returned from the world-record attempt in Ottawa.

"He talked about (skydiving) a lot. He was always trying to get us to go," Taylor said. When they agreed, "he was all excited to take us when he got back."

She learned Sunday he had been killed in an accident that morning, and it looks like she and her roommate won't be making that jump for a while.

"It's not because of the accident, really," Taylor said. "It's because he's not here. He was an amazing guy. He treated us awesome."

Adams, 54, had given Taylor a $70 watch when she graduated from the University of Montana this spring, and he bought his tenants a new refrigerator for their apartment, she said.

Before he left for Illinois, he was in the yard, excitedly showing the women a diagram of the formation planned for the world-record attempt. He told them he was a little nervous, Taylor said. Adams' ex-wife, Brenda Elvey of Missoula, said skydiving was a natural part of life while they were married, and the two have maintained a friendly relationship since their 1992 divorce. They have two adult children, Beth and Steven.

Elvey estimated Adams had been skydiving for more than 30 years. When the couple would move to a new town, the first thing he would do is search out the nearest place to skydive, she said.

"He really loved it. He had a sense of adventure. He had a passion for skydiving, and that probably grew the more he did it.

"He had had a couple small injuries before, broken bones in his foot and different things like that, but that never seemed to bother him or set him back, or make him not want to do it. He really enjoyed a lot of things -- scuba diving, hunting -- but skydiving was his biggest passion.

"I think he was very responsible; he wasn't foolhardy. I think he was very much safety first," she said.

"I think he was a Christian man. He liked skydiving, traveling and he enjoyed his kids."

Mick Fauske, who worked with Adams at Montana Rail Link, said Adams was "thrilled" to be asked to join the record attempt, and proud he was one of the oldest people participating.

The two men hunted together, but Adams had never persuaded Fauske to jump.

"I'm not much of a heights person, but he enjoyed it," Fauske said. " (He liked) the thrill of it, the idea of flying. I know it was his favorite sport."

Adams had been a railroad engineer for more than 30 years -- for Burlington Northern and Union Pacific before Montana Rail Link formed in 1987 -- and both Elvey and Fauske praised his railroading abilities.

Elvey said, "I know he could run an engine by how the seat felt. He was a good engineer."

"He was a really good guy," Fauske said. "He took care of his family. He was a good railroader; he was a good skydiver."

"He'll be missed," Taylor said. "We're all still in shock here."

© The Daily Times




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