FORT ANN -- The type of skydiving accident that injured two people Sunday is rare, according to an industry official.
Scott D. Smith of South Glens Falls, owner of Adirondack Skydiving Adventures, and Georgi A. Reed of Ballston Spa were injured when the parachutes didn’t deploy properly during their tandem jump.
The two had taken off from nearby Harris Airport.
Smith deployed a Drogue parachute at about 6,000 feet, which became wrapped around his arm. Because of its design, the reserve chute wasn’t able to inflate improperly.
The two crashed in a wooded ravine about 200 yards behind the Country Meadows Golf Course on Route 149.
Reed injured her shoulder and was treated and released at Saratoga Hospital.
Smith suffered possibly broken ribs and an injured left foot and was taken to Glens Falls Hospital. His condition could not be determined Monday, as a hospital official said there was no patient by that name in the hospital’s directory.
Tandem skydiving is very safe, according to Nancy Koreen, spokeswoman for the U.S. Parachute Association, a nonprofit organization that develops rules and regulations for the sport.
“The accident rate is extremely low because it’s such a controlled environment for a first-time jumper,” she said.
Koreen explained that in tandem jumping, the instructor and student have separate harnesses, but the student is attached to the instructor and they share the parachute.
In 2013, there were 24 fatalities out of an estimated 3.2 million total skydiving jumps, according to the organization’s website.
After hearing an explanation of this incident, Koreen said it may not necessarily have been a defect of the parachutes. It could have been a packing mistake that led to the chute becoming entangled. For some reason, the main chute got snagged and then the reserve wasn’t able to open cleanly.
“If one part doesn’t release properly, then the second part can get snagged,” she said.
Witnesses and police say that seems to be what happened.
Bob Hoffer and Amy Hoffer of South Glens Falls were playing golf when the accident occurred. Bob Hoffer said he had seen about five skydivers jump during their round of golf. They decided to pause their game and watch this next jump.
Bob Hoffer said he heard the plane slow down, which he knew meant the jump was coming.
“It looked like the chute was trying to open, but nothing was there,” he said.
The divers immediately went into a cartwheel, according to Hoffer. Initially, he thought they might be doing tricks.
Amy Hoffer said initially the couple thought it was just one person that was falling because they were intertwined. She speculated that Smith was doing a bear hug to protect Reed.
“It’s one of those things you don’t believe you’re seeing when you see it,” she said.
It’s definitely scary. It’s probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen,” she added.
The couple realized something was wrong and started running back to the clubhouse to call 911, while Bob ran to the scene.
“It was scary. My heart was pounding. You’re expecting the worst,” he said.
Instead, Bob Hoffer learned quickly that the skydivers were alive and conscious, as he heard yells coming from the distance.
“I yelled back: ‘Help is on the way,’” he said.
Hoffer told the skydivers it was great to hear their voices and they said likewise.
Hoffer said Reed told him she was skydiving for her birthday and being alive was her present.
Hoffer searched for a little bit in the woods until he found the blue parachute canopy with the two skydivers, hanging in a tree
“He looked like he was a foot at most off the ground hanging. She was to the right of him,” he said.
Police said they believed the skydiver did hit the ground before coming to rest in the tree.
The skydivers wanted the harness removed, but Hoffer said he didn’t want to move them in case they were injured. Another golfer, Aaron Titka, said he unclipped them.
Emergency responders arrived quickly at the scene and the golf course owner cleared some trees and brush to allow better access, according to Bob Hoffer.
Crews used ladders to put up a roughly 6- to 8-foot-wide makeshift bridge to get across the ravine, according to Hoffer.
Among the responders were the Fort Ann Rescue Squad, West Fort Ann Ambulance, local fire departments, Washington County sheriff’s deputies and New York State Police troopers. Police did not have any new details into the investigation on Monday.
Adirondack Skydiving Adventures has been based at Harris Airport since July. A message left Monday for the company was not returned.
Bob Hoffer said he believes the skydivers were very fortunate to fall where they did.
“Thank God they landed in the woods. Those trees broke their fall,” he said. “If they had landed on the ground, they wouldn’t have lived.”