A San Diego skydiver who died during a contest was an instructor with more than 8,000 jumps and an expert in "swooping," a dangerous ground- and water-skimming maneuver that he was doing when he was killed, authorities and skydiving experts said Sunday.
Sean Carey, 35, was declared dead at a hospital after the accident Saturday at Perris Valley Skydiving, Riverside County officials said, becoming the seventh person in 18 months to die at the popular skydiving hub.
Facility manager Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld told several media outlets that Carey was in a swooping contest with 15 others when he failed to pull up in time as he headed toward a pond.
"He accelerated to the pond too low and didn't come out of the acceleration quickly enough," Brodsky-Chenfeld told U-T San Diego.
Swooping — also known as canopy piloting — involves skimming just a few feet above the ground and water at speeds of up to 60 mph.
The facility banned the maneuver briefly after its most recent diver death late last year, but began allowing it again for experts like Carey.
"He was one of the most experienced canopy pilots in the country," said Buzz Fink, president of Skydive San Diego where Carey worked as an instructor and had trained Navy SEALs for the military.
"It's going to take us a long time to get over the loss," Fink told U-T San Diego.
Perris Valley Skydiving has seen nearly as many accidents in the last 18 months as in the previous 10 years.
Officials from the United State Parachuting Association said after the December accident that while the facility has had a difficult stretch, the accident rate is not unusual for one of the nation's busiest drop zones. Perris Valley Skydiving is home to 140,000 annual jumps.
The facility already had some of the nation's most stringent rules and requirements for swooping, Brodsky-Chenfeld said. He did not yet know what the future of the maneuver there would be.
"We know we are doing everything we can and more," he told the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
Paul Rodriguez, another canopy pilot who jumped shortly before Carey in the competition, told KCBS-TV that the last time he saw Carey "we were just in the plane and having fun."
He said people who dive in this way understand and accept the risk.
"We're all our own canopy pilots," Rodriguez said, "and we're responsible for the actions we take."