Federal officials want to see backpack of skydiver who plummeted to her death in Lodi

Federal investigators were on site Monday at the Lodi Parachute Center looking into why a jumper’s parachute failed to properly open, causing her to plummet to her death over the weekend.

The woman, identified by San Joaquin County officials as Nina Lowry Mason, 62, of Dillon, Colorado, was described as an experienced jumper who had taken several jumps before her fatal fall Sunday.

Bill Dause, owner of the center, told news media at the site that Mason’s husband was jumping with her. Dause declined further comment when reached via phone by The Bee on Monday.

“It was a very unfortunate accident,” he said. “That is all I have to say.”

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said initial reports are that the woman’s main parachute failed to properly deploy. He said the woman was using her own “rig,” or chute pack.

“The FAA’s role in accidents such as this is to determine whether the parachute was properly packed by the appropriate person,” Gregor said.

If that is so, it will prompt several other questions, officials and parachute experts say: Was the chute improperly packed? Who’s responsible? And did the woman attempt to use her reserve chute?

The Lodi parachuting facility has had a long history of problems. At least 20 people have died in skydiving incidents connected to the center since 1981.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation agents served a search warrant at the center in January. An FBI spokeswoman at the time declined comment. FBI officials declined comment Monday when asked for an update on any findings or actions they may have taken.

The FAA previous cited the Lodi center in 2010 and 2011 “for allegedly failing to perform required aircraft parts replacements” and for operating a plane in 2009 that did not comply with federal regulations.

Ed Scott, executive director of the U.S. Parachute Association, said the woman who died this weekend may have packed her chute herself or could have hired an experienced rig packer to do it for her. A rig packer might be someone employed by a parachute jump center, but it could also be a private jump instructor or someone with experience.

The jump center is required, however, to check to see that the rig’s reserve chute was packed by an FAA-certified rigger within the last six months, Scott said. That certification documents is typically located in a pocket on the rig.

“If it is not used in six-month period, it must be opened and repacked by an FAA certified rigger,” Scott said.

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