Two men killed in skydiving accident
A skydiving accident in the skies over Plattekill claimed the lives of two men on Friday.
David Winoker, 49, and Alexander Chulsky, 25, his instructor, were participating in a tandem jump with Skydive the Ranch, of Gardiner, when things went horribly wrong. Members of their party could only watch as the two men spiraled to the ground near Hurd’s Farm on Route 32.
“The parachute was activated by the instructor at the appropriate time, at what appeared to be the proper elevation,” said Joe Richards, owner of Skydive the Ranch. “They flew straight for 3 to 4 seconds, then made a right turn and continued to make a right turn until they hit the ground. We don’t know why.”
In a tandem jump, the inexperienced jumper is harnessed to an instructor who controls the parachute. Richards said he saw nothing to believe that the parachute malfunctioned. He believes that Chulsky must have been injured in the jump and incapacitated.
“If he was conscious, able to act, he would have been easily able to land the parachute. Something prevented him from doing so. It seems like he was unconscious for some reason, and we don’t know why,” said Richards.
Richards stated Chulsky pulled the left toggle, causing the parachute to turn right, but then never released the right toggle, causing them to spiral.
“The Ranch has been open for 27 years,” said Richards. “This is the first time we’ve had something like this happen during a tandem jump.”
According to the U.S. Parachute Association (USPA), of which Skydive the Ranch is a member, skydiving is becoming a safer sport, with 25 deaths reported last year out of more than 3 million jumps. The causes for those deaths range from equipment malfunctions to environmental obstacles or canopy collisions.
The cause of Friday’s incident however, is still shrouded in mystery.
Plattekill Police Chief Joe Ryan said Tuesday that the accident is still under investigation. While they are waiting on the official autopsy results, they have received preliminary reports from the medical examiner stating there was an injury to the front of the instructor’s neck.
“We’re trying to determine whether the helmet from Winoker jerked backward during the deployment of the parachute, striking Chulsky in the neck,” said Ryan.
Ryan said eyewitness accounts stating that Chulsky appeared unconscious and not operating the parachute’s handles appears to be consistent with that theory.
The FAA has inspected the parachute and determined that it was not faulty and did deploy properly. Ryan stated that each parachute also has a “black box” type of device, which they have sent out to the manufacturer to retrieve its information.
Police are also looking into the possibility of video taken during the jump, as skydivers often pay to have their dive recorded.
“We want to cover all bases,” said Ryan, adding that it appeared to be “a tragic accident.”
The men were transported to St. Francis Hospital where they were pronounced dead.
Ryan said the town has seen some individuals take “hard landings” before, but this is the first fatal skydiving accident for the department.
The two men were the last to leave the plane.
Winoker, who was taking his first plunge out of a plane, was a Manhattan real estate developer from Chappaqua, celebrating his friend’s 50th birthday. He was reportedly a cautious man, but was talked into the adventure by his wife.
On Father’s Day, his widow and three children spoke highly of him at the funeral services at a Westchester synagogue. It was also his father’s 83rd birthday.
Alexander Chulsky, the instructor, was from Brooklyn and has been described as a passionate skydiver, always trying to recruit others into the sport.
Chulsky had just become an instructor at the Ranch this year. Richards said the young instructor had been diving at the Ranch for a number of years and made many friends before deciding to join the family as a part-time instructor.
“I knew him for a number of years. He always seemed like a nice guy. He was easy to work with and worked well with the team,” said Richards. “He was just genuinely a nice person.”
The Ranch is still mourning the loss of one of their own, but they are not giving up their love of the air. Since the accident on Friday, more than 200 skydivers have jumped at the Ranch and the facility plans to continue their season through the end of November.
“It’s hard to lose a friend,” said Richards. “It’s been a sad time for all of us here, but we still enjoy the sky and we will continue to skydive.”
By Rachel Coleman