Sky-dive instructor in fatal jump learned from teacher with suspended credential

Two men die in tandem skydiving accident near Lodi

August 2016: San Joaquin Sheriff's Sgt. Brandon Riley confirmed the deaths of two men during a tandem jump at the Parachute Center in Acampo.
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August 2016: San Joaquin Sheriff's Sgt. Brandon Riley confirmed the deaths of two men during a tandem jump at the Parachute Center in Acampo.

The instructor killed last month in a tandem sky dive with an 18-year-old student near Lodi was taught by someone with a suspended certification, according to the national parachute certifying organization.

Friday’s announcement by the United States Parachute Association follows its previous disclosure that the deceased instructor, 25-year-old Yong Kwon of South Korea, did not have the required certification to lead a tandem sky dive. Kwon and first-time jumper Tyler Nicholas Turner of Los Banos died in the Aug. 6 fall.

In July 2015, the United States Parachute Association suspended the teaching certificate of Rob Pooley, one of two tandem certification examiners working at the Parachute Center in Acampo, said executive director Ed Scott. Among other things, the association suspended Pooley because he was not properly completing paperwork about his students, who were being certified to take first-time sky divers out.

Following the suspension, Pooley taught Kwon and many others at the Parachute Center and submitted falsified paperwork to the association for certification of those students, Scott said. Another certification examiner at the Parachute Center, Yuri Garmashov, was listed as the instructor on the paperwork, either because Garmashov lied or Pooley forged his name, Scott said.

However, the association did not receive instruction paperwork for Kwon, he said.

The Sacramento Bee was not able to reach Pooley. Garmashov said Friday that “my signature was stolen” and declined to comment further.

Parachute Center owner Bill Dause declined to respond to questions Friday by phone. He sent a written statement saying that the United States Parachute Association is taking the same steps it has when other people have died in tandem parachute accidents. He said all instructors at the center meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

But Scott said he reached a different conclusion. As a result of what it found about Pooley and Garmashov, the association has revoked the tandem parachute credentials of 12 instructors and told another 128 instructors that they must go through a refresher course.

The 140 people identified by the association are the students taught by Pooley and Garmashov at the Parachute Center since 2011.

The Aug. 6 fatalities led to investigations by the United States Parachute Association and the FAA. Both investigations are pending, but Scott said the association considered the findings about the two instructors serious enough to warrant the “interim action” of suspending and retraining tandem instructors.

While there is no official count of fatalities, a review of news stories shows that at least 17 people have died flying out of the center since Dause started there in 1981.

The association’s investigation is aimed at the training credentials of the tandem jumpers at the Parachute Center, Scott said. Once its investigation is complete and the identified instructors are retrained, the public can be sure that the center’s instructors are properly certified, Scott said.

Parachute Center owner Dause has not cooperated with the association’s investigator, but others working out of the center have, Scott said.

The FAA investigation could consider the certifications, as well as how the center maintains its planes, Scott said. The FAA sought to fine Dause almost $1 million for alleged mechanical violations several years ago, but Dause refused to settle the claims and it’s unclear what happened after the FAA forwarded the claims to the U.S. attorney’s office.

In a written statement, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said: “We are close to completing our investigation into the fatal Aug. 6 tandem skydiving accident. We are evaluating potential actions we could take as a result of our findings.”