Skydiving Center Records 28 Deaths, Yet Operations Continue

Under clear blue skies at the Lodi Parachute Center, Francine Turner and her son Tyler, along with his two best friends, arrived on a Saturday morning in August 2016. The occasion marked their high school graduation, and they were eager to experience their first skydiving adventure before beginning their journey at UC Merced in the fall.

The day before, during lunch, the boys had casually joked about their parachutes failing to open. As they approached the plane for their jump, Francine joined them in the hangar located just off Highway 99, a few miles north of Stockton in California’s Central Valley.

She recounted how the boys were hurriedly shown a safety video while simultaneously handed safety waivers to read and sign, making it challenging to focus on both tasks. Additionally, she noted that they were quickly ushered into the next room for a harness fitting before the video had finished.

Skydiving Center Records 28 Deaths, Yet Operations Continue
Skydiving Center Records 28 Deaths, Yet Operations Continue (Credits: SFGate)

“It was rushed and seemed careless for something so crucial,” Francine recalled in an interview with SFGATE in July of the following year.

Opting for a videographer to capture the dive, Francine bid farewell to her son as he embraced her and said, “I love you.” Before boarding the plane, Tyler knelt for a brief prayer on the runway. Little did Francine know it would be the last time she saw her son alive.

Moments later, as she watched people returning from the drop zone, she realized Tyler was not among them. It later emerged that Tyler and his tandem partner, Yong Kwon, encountered tangled parachutes, leading to a fatal impact upon landing in a nearby vineyard.

Francine soon discovered the grim history of accidents tied to the center since 1985, as detailed in an investigation by the Sacramento Bee. Despite her anguish and concerns, operations at the center continued unabated.

The lack of comprehensive data on fatalities at the Parachute Center reflects broader issues within the skydiving industry. The FAA conducts investigations into skydiving accidents but does not delve into determining their causes, citing limited regulatory authority over the sport.

Skydiving Center Records 28 Deaths, Yet Operations Continue
Skydiving Center Records 28 Deaths, Yet Operations Continue (Credits: SFGate)

Skydiving regulations rely heavily on self-regulation within the community, with minimal federal oversight. The USPA, a private industry group, plays a significant role in certification and safety standards but faces criticism for its perceived leniency.

Despite numerous accidents and regulatory violations documented over the years, the Parachute Center continued operations under various names. Legal actions, such as wrongful death lawsuits and federal indictments, highlighted negligence and fraudulent practices within the center’s management.

In the aftermath of Tyler’s death, legislative efforts like “Tyler’s Law” aimed to improve oversight and accountability within skydiving establishments. However, challenges persist in enforcing regulations and ensuring safety standards.

As investigations continue and legal battles unfold, the Parachute Center remains a controversial focal point in the skydiving community. For Francine Turner and others who lost loved ones, the painful memories and unanswered questions serve as reminders of the risks inherent in the sport.