NORTHUMBERLAND -- The skydiver who plunged to his death on Sunday intentionally unfastened his parachute as he descended, according to authorities.
Robert E. Raecke, 60, of Duanesburg, left a suicide note behind before taking his own life during the jump at Saratoga Skydiving Adventures, located off Route 32 in Gansevoort, Saratoga County Sheriff's Investigator Rick Capasso said.
He said authorities do not know what motivated Raecke, an experienced skydiver, to end his life.
Raecke had been skydiving for decades and had thousands of jumps under his belt, according to those in the skydiving community, who knew him by the nickname "Señor."
James McNair, the primary instructor at Saratoga Skydiving, said he watched from the ground Sunday as Raecke fell into a grassy field at around 5:30 p.m.
When Raecke exited the small plane, he was wearing a helmet and had his parachute backpack properly fastened, an employee onboard told McNair, and McNair said the parachute deployed.
When he inspected the pack - found a distance away from Raecke's body - after the fall, McNair said the helmet was strapped to the pack, the chest strap was undone and the leg straps had been loosened.
"He took his helmet off once the canopy was up and then detached himself from his equipment," McNair said, standing outside the facility on Brownville Road. "It was willful and intentional."
McNair said Raecke, whom he did not know personally, had jumped at the facility before, but not recently.
From Vermont Skydiving Adventures in West Addison, Vt., to as far south as The Blue Sky Ranch, located south of New Paltz, people knew him by name. But no operators reached at area jump sites wished to talk about him.
On the skydiving website dropzone.com, skydivers expressed surprise and sadness over his death. One man from Georgia wrote that Raecke took him on his first jump in 1982.
"He was deeply loved and touched many lives," another person wrote. "His death is hitting the jumping community here in the Northeast very hard."
A 2006 article by the Associated Press referred to Raecke as a cabinetmaker who was also a certified skydiving instructor. The article told how he taught inexperienced jumpers in the art of a safe freefall and landing.
"It takes focus," the article quotes Raecke as saying.
In 2010, there were 21 reported deaths in almost 3 million jumps in the U.S., according to the U.S. Parachute Association - an average of one fatality for every 141,509 jumps.
Most deaths and injuries suffered while skydiving are due to human error, not equipment failure, according to the association.