Police / Fire

Air Force paratrooper killed when chute fails during local skydive

The parachute of an experienced jumper apparently failed to deploy during recreational jump near Tres Pinos

A 38-year-old Air Force rescue paratrooper was killed Sunday during a recreational skydive south of Hollister when his chute experienced a failure, according to the San Benito County Sheriff's Office.

Nathan Schmidt, whom law enforcement officials say lived in Santa Cruz and was stationed at Moffett Field in Mountain View, was pronounced dead on scene when he landed without his chute deploying in the Stonegate neighborhood south of Ridgemark and north of Tres Pinos off Airline Highway, Sheriff's Capt. Eric Taylor told BenitoLink.

Schmidt, who apparently packed his own chute, was a member of the U.S. Air Force 131st Rescue Squadron, for which he was a highly-trained jumper. His jump Sunday was recreational, Taylor said.

"We're still trying to figure out what the failure was, but he had some type of failure with his main parachute," Taylor said. "Witnesses reported that he went into a spin. Based on what the people on-scene were saying, once he got into the spin it would be difficult to deploy the backup parachute. He was unable to recover from the spin and landed in the Stonegate residential area, on the side of a roadway."

Taylor said there were at least two other jumpers on the same flight, which was operated by Skydive Hollister, based at the Hollister Municipal Airport. The landing zone for the popular skydiving business is south of Tres Pinos, across Airline Highway from the Immaculate Conception Church in Tres Pinos. Sunday's accident occurred well north of the landing zone.

"The actual report came in from a resident who was witnessing (Schmidt) spinning out of control," Taylor said. At the accident scene, paramedics tended to Schmidt "for an extended period of time," Taylor noted, "20 to 30 minutes, and declared him dead on scene."

San Benito County contracts with Santa Clara County for autopsy services, so Schmidt's equipment and parachute were sent there so the medical examiner can make a visual inspection of all of the gear. "We'll then release all of the equipment to the Air Force for them to try to determine why it failed," Taylor said. "It seems he was a very experienced jumper. He was not being trained by Skydive Hollister. He went for a recreational jump."

Taylor said it appears that Schmidt "packed his own suit and own equipment. Skydive Hollister was (merely) the ride up to 15,000 feet for him."

No further investigation into Skydive Hollister's role in the accident is expected, Taylor said. "They were very cooperative and provided a lot of technical expertise to the deputies on-scene and made sense of what may or may not have happened."

News of the accident came after business hours, so Skydive Hollister could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Adam Breen

Adam Breen has been a San Benito County resident since 1980 and graduated from Sacred Heart School and San Benito High School before earning a bachelor's degree from California State University, Fresno. A father of two sons, Adam has taught newspaper, English and yearbook at SBHS for the past decade, after six years as a magazine editor for Santa Clara University. He previously was editor of the Hollister Free Lance and content director for BenitoLink.