One of two skydivers who died Saturday was an 18-year-old Los Banos man who graduated from high school just two months ago and was jumping for the first time, his mother said Sunday in an interview with the Merced Sun-Star.
According to Francine Salazar, the young man who died while skydiving near Lodi was her son, Tyler Turner.
She said the other man killed during the tandem jump was an instructor. Salazar was there watching for her son as jumpers came out of the plane. He was there with several friends celebrating a birthday, she said.
“Before he got on the plane, he knelt down and prayed, made his peace with God, and then turned around and gave me a great big, huge hug,” Salazar said. “He said, ‘I love you, Mom,’ and then he got on the plane.”
She never saw him come down.
“I was watching everybody coming down; they look like little dots and you can’t tell who is who. We didn’t know what color his chute was,” she said. “I asked everyone where he was and nobody panicked or anything, we just started looking for him. He went really far off course.”
Salazar said she was troubled before the jump because an instructor told the boys they did not need to finish watching the safety video shown beforehand. She said she was there and witnessed the instructor tell the group: “Oh, you don’t need to watch that.”
“I don’t know why they have it if they don’t need to watch it,” Salazar told the Sun-Star.
Bill Dause, owner of the Lodi Parachute Center in Acampo, told the Sun-Star he was “pretty sure” the group watched the whole film before jumping, but acknowledged he couldn’t be sure.
“It (the video) plays on a continuous loop, it plays continuously, so I’m pretty sure they saw it,” he said in a telephone interview. “But it wouldn’t have made any difference (if they didn’t). It was an unfortunate accident.”
Dause said he sympathized with Salazar, but insisted whether her son had seen the video or not, it would not have prevented Saturday’s tragedy.
“I know she’s grasping for reasons,” he said, “and we’re just as upset about it as everybody is.”
Salazar said she paid to have her son’s jump videotaped, but said the Federal Aviation Administration took the tape as part of its investigation.
San Joaquin County sheriff’s officials as of Sunday had not publicly identified the new skydiver or the skydiving instructor.
Authorities still were trying to reach one of the men’s families for notification, sheriff’s Sgt. Brandon Riley said Sunday. The other man was in his mid-20s, Riley said.
The skydiving instructor was a veteran who had about 700 previous jumps, Dause said.
The Sheriff’s Office said Saturday the parachute did not open, and the two hit the ground. Deputies received a call around 10 a.m. and found the bodies in a vineyard just south of the center’s landing zone.
Dause told Sacramento television station Channel 3 (KCRA) on Saturday that it appeared “something may have gone out of sequence in the jump.” Dause said Sunday he had no more information, partly because authorities were holding all the equipment used in the jump for investigation, he said.
The wind and other conditions were “perfect” at the time of the jump, Dause said. “Conditions had nothing to do with it.”
An exact cause will be determined by the FAA.
The skydive center was in the news in May, when a small plane carrying 17 skydivers took off from there and landed upside-down after clipping a pickup. The worst injuries were minor cuts and scrapes.
In February, the Lodi News-Sentinel reported that a solo skydiver had died after a parachute malfunction at the center.
Turner graduated in June with honors from Pacheco High School in Los Banos. He planned to attend UC Merced in the fall to study biomedical engineering, his mother said. Her son took advanced placement courses in high school, performed exceptionally well and, she said, was going to begin his college career as a sophomore.
“He’d earned the credits to do that. He was born with cerebral palsy and he wanted to do something to help others with the condition,” she said. “He was going to find something that would help people. He was going to change the world.”
Salazar said Turner was the youngest of four children, with an older sister, Tiffany, and two older brothers, Todd and Troy. He also is survived by his young niece, Charlie Ray.
She said the friends that were with her son Saturday were going to be his college roommates in a campus apartment.
“He was an incredibly strong boy, had integrity like nobody else,” she said. “Live your life like he would’ve. He was an incredible boy.”
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482