Skydive Long Island disputes report FAA is investigating parachute in fatal accident

The plane in the July 30 skydiving accident being taxied back to its hangar. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson, file)
The plane in the July 30 skydiving accident in Calverton being taxied back to its hangar. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson, file)

Skydive Long Island issued a statement Saturday disputing the report that the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating whether the parachute was properly packed in the fatal tandem skydiving accident July 30 that killed one man and critically injured the instructor.

The statement came in response to a Newsday story that claimed the FAA’s probe into the accident is “looking into whether the parachute was packed properly and deployed correctly,” citing an unnamed FAA official.

“This statement is untrue,” Skydive Long Island said in a statement. “The FAA inspected the gear and shortly thereafter released the gear to Skydive Long Island with no restrictions on further use.”

An FAA official told the News-Review Saturday the accident is still under investigation. The official said the FAA does not release information on an accident investigation until it is completed. It is unclear when the FAA investigation will be complete.

Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard told the News-Review Saturday that the FAA said it is not investigating the parachute pack as a cause for the accident.

Two days after the incident, the national director of the United States Parachute Association said his investigation concluded the accident was caused by a “dust devil,” a mini-tornado that collapsed the parachute, sending the jumpers into a free fall somewhere between 75 and 150 feet above the ground. The FAA’s investigation is separate from the one done by Richard Winstock, the national director.

A dispute emerged shortly after the accident when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent a compliance officer to investigate. OSHA routinely inspects workplace accidents to determine whether there were any violations of occupational safety or health standards.

The compliance officer visited the site July 31, one day after the accident. The following day, an attorney for Skydive Long Island, Saul Zabell, informed the officer that OSHA was no longer permitted to access the site or interview employees, according to online court documents.

A brief court battle ensued, as OSHA attempted to regain its right to investigate the accident. Skydive Long Island claimed the FAA held jurisdiction in the accident investigation. On Friday, OSHA, which operates under the U.S. Labor Department, agreed to that and withdrew its Application for Inspection Warrant with the Eastern District Court.

Mr. Maynard reiterated Saturday that the FAA has jurisdiction into the accident, which prompted him to stall OSHA.

The accident claimed the life of Gary Messina, a 25-year-old New York City correction officer. The instructor, 28-year-old Christopher Scott of Sound Beach, was critically injured in the accident. It was the first fatal accident in a tandem jump at Skydive Long Island, though a death was reported at the company’s East Moriches location in 1989.

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