Monday, February 13, 2017

Following Lodi deaths, Stockton lawmaker calls for state oversight of skydiving

A Stockton lawmaker is proposing state oversight of the parachuting industry following an August tandem jump that killed two men outside Lodi.

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman said Yong Kwon and Tyler Nicholas Turner were the 12th and 13th people killed in flights out of Lodi Parachute Center since 2000. Kwon, 25, was the instructor and Turner, 18, was a first-time jumper in the tandem parachute crash.

Eggman, a Democrat, expressed disappointment in the level of regulation provided by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA has twice levied fines against Lodi Parachute Center for maintenance and operations problems, but Eggman noted that owner Bill Dause did not pay the fines and the U.S. Attorney’s Office apparently decided not to prosecute him.

“He won’t pay fines and continues to act with impunity,” Eggman said.

Eggman’s bill, Assembly Bill 295, would require parachute operators to follow federal law for tandem jumps, including making sure instructors are certified, can properly control a parachute and know how to pack the parachute. In making violations of federal regulations a state offense, the bill would give state and local officials and the general public the power to seek relief in state court, according to Eggman's staff.

Dause said Thursday that he wasn’t aware of Eggman’s bill. Told that it would enact state penalties for FAA violations, Dause said, “Everyone follows FAA regulations.”

In September, the national organization that certifies tandem instructors said Kwon was not certified. The executive director of the United States Parachute Association said at the time that the FAA requires instructors to have the certification.

The FAA has been investigating the case for five months. While the agency issued preliminary findings about the fatalities in September that determined the main parachute did not open, among other things, the case remains under investigation, spokesman Ian Gregor said Thursday.

Gregor said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

Eggman said the number of deaths at Lodi Parachute Center suggests that it is operating unsafely and that the FAA hasn’t been able to bring it under control.

“I don’t know if it lacks teeth or the will, but they’ve had 13 deaths out there and should take notice,” she said.

A 2008 report by the National Transportation Safety Board found “inadequate Federal Aviation Administration oversight and direct surveillance of parachute operations.”

Gregor said previously that the FAA implemented the recommendations made in the NTSB report.

In November, the FAA said it has taken enforcement action against the parachute center two times – in 2011 and 2012. The first action stemmed from operating a plane when “critical parts were well past their life limits and without inspecting portions of the wings for corrosion,” according to an FAA news release.

The same release quoted then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood saying, “Putting parachutists at risk by neglecting to follow safety procedures is unacceptable.” The agency proposed a $664,000 civil penalty.

In the second action, the FAA proposed a $269,000 civil fine against the center for operating a plane on 41 flights without conducting proper inspections.

According to Gregor, Dause refused to pay the fines and the cases were forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which has declined to comment on them.

The fatal tandem jump was the third major accident to occur at Lodi Parachute Center in 2016. A skydiver died from a parachute malfunction last February, and a skydiving plane carrying 18 people crash-landed upside down in an Acampo vineyard, though no passengers were hurt.

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