Skydiving Instructor Dies in Air & Student Survives

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On Sunday, May 28 a skydiving instructor passed away during a skydive. The skydiving instructor was Ben Crowell of Alabama. He was 58 years old at the time of his death. He was performing a tandem skydiving jump, meaning a student was with him and strapped to him at the time of his death. The student survived the jump. The parachute pack was said to have an automatic activation device on it. It is believed that Crowell died in the air before he and his student hit the ground on the Royal Golf Course in Slidell.

His student was said to have walked away from the initial incident, but was airlifted to the University Medical Center. Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Daniel Seuzeneau confirmed that the student was “airlifted to a New Orleans hospital.” Brenda Grafton, the owner of Skydive Nawlins in Slidell said she had known Crowell for a while and he was an independent contractor with her company. “He was his happy-go-lucky self,” Grafton said:

“He was just happy to get in the air, and he died doing what he loved.”

When talking about Crowell’s skydiving student, Grafton said, “She had God on her shoulders. She walked away.” Grafton believes Crowell suffered a health related issue while in the air because he did not pull the main parachute. “It wasn’t an equipment issue at all. In fact, the equipment that was over their heads saved that young girl’s life.” Crowell had been involved in skydiving for nearly 35 years, performing his first jump in 1982. He had jumped in numerous locations all over the world. He had completed over 9,000 jumps. He was also a safety advisor for Gold Coast Skydivers and “holds the record for highest tandem jump” at 30,000 feet.

The U.S. Academy of Parachute Rigging said Crowell spent 28 years in the United States Coast Guard was a Distinguished Parachute Rigger Examiner according to FAA regulations. Cameron Fontenot, a friend of Crowell, commented on the incident. “Ben was a really good guy. The skydiving community is really feeling the loss,” Fontenot said. Fontenot is currently a skydiving instructor for Skydive Lone Star in Luling, just outside of Austin, Texas. “Well Ben is probably the most experienced skydiving instructor, or skydiver in general, that I had ever met, and probably will be for a very long time,” Fontenot said.

“The reason that’s she’s alive is because Ben turned on that computer before they made the jump, so bless your heart Ben.”

“In some way shape or form, Ben has probably saved hundreds of people’s lives with his emergency parachute pack jobs and just his advice that he’s given.” The automatic activation device on the parachute has a back-up parachute deploy if the main parachute is not deployed after a certain altitude. The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s office believes Crowell lost consciousness soon after departing from the plane but admitting they were not 100 percent sure on the exact details of what happened initially. An autopsy was performed on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 by the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office. The Parish Sherriff’s office said the Federal Aviation Administration was made aware of the incident and will investigate.

Before the autopsy, Charles Preston, St. Tammany Coroner, said, “There is suggestive evidence that Mr. Crowell’s demise was caused before he struck the ground, but we’re not assuming anything at this point. As always, our forensic investigation will be thorough and precise to determine what led to this man’s untimely death. Regardless of the cause, it is a very unfortunate tragedy for the Crowell family and the community.” On Tuesday, Preston confirmed his suspicions. Crowell died of heart disease. Forensic evidence confirms he was dead before impact, according to Preston. Crowell suffered from “critical coronary artery and heart disease.”

Injury to Crowell’s body did occur from striking the ground and from his student landing on top of him.

As part of standard protocol, the FAA will handle toxicology testing.

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