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‘Parachute began spinning’ during deadly skydive, Lodi center official said

One person died Wednesday, May 24, 2017 in a parachute accident near the Lodi Parachute Center in Acampo, according to the Woodbridge Fire District.
One person died Wednesday, May 24, 2017 in a parachute accident near the Lodi Parachute Center in Acampo, according to the Woodbridge Fire District. scaiola@sacbee.com

The skydiver who died Wednesday afternoon in a parachute accident near the Lodi Parachute Center in Acampo has been identified by the San Joaquin County Coroner’s Office as Matthew Ciancio.

Ciancio, 42, was from June Lake, in Mono County, said Dave Konecny, a spokesman for the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Department, which oversees the Coroner’s Office.

The skydiver was wearing a wingsuit at the time of the jump and landed in a vineyard about a mile north of the Lodi Airport, said Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. Wingsuits are described as specialized jumpsuits with two arm wings and a leg wing. A parachute is typically deployed at the end of a descent.

The center has a long history of fatalities and investigations that found improper practices. A trade association last year found that a parachute instructor was not properly licensed when he and a first-time tandem jumper died in a crash.

Bill Dause, a spokesman for the Lodi Parachute Center, said on Thursday that Ciancio’s parachute failed to deploy correctly during the skydive.

He was doing a wingsuit formation at the time of the jump and was accompanied by four or five other people. Dause said instead of deploying correctly, Ciancio’s parachute began spinning.

Ciancio tried to straighten the parachute out, but then began discarding it “at an extremely low altitude,” Dause said.

“He neglected to follow proper emergency procedure,” he said. “He waited too long to get rid of the bad parachute.”

Ciancio was visiting the center and had conducted several jumps there over the past week, Dause said.

Ciancio grew up in New Fairfield, Conn., said his younger brother Brian Ciancio, and was well-known as a wrestler throughout high school. After attending the University of Nebraska for a year, he moved to June Lake in 1995 and most recently worked as an X-ray technician at Northern Inyo Hospital.

He continued to develop a passion for adventure and the outdoors including rock climbing, base jumping, snowboarding, skiing and riding dirt bikes. His brother said that after about 10 years of rock climbing, he started to skydive within the last eight to 10 years.

“If you went rock climbing or skydiving year-round, how could you be stressed?” Brian Ciancio said. “He is that poster child for living life to the fullest.”

Brian Ciancio said the last time he saw Matt was about two weeks ago, when he came home to see his father, who was nearing the end of his life.

“He was really there when you needed him, and he was a great big brother,” he said.

On Wednesday, emergency medical crews were sent out about 4:15 p.m. to a vineyard off Jahant Road in response to the incident, said Steve Butler, Woodbridge Fire District chief. San Joaquin County sheriff’s investigators were also sent to the scene.

The FAA sent three investigators to Lodi on Thursday morning. The investigators will interview emergency personnel, witnesses and examine any video of the jump, Gregor said. The investigators will also determine if the parachute was properly packed by certified parachute rigger, he added.

Three people died last year in accidents near the Lodi Parachute Center. One suffered a parachute malfunction in February 2016, while an instructor and student died during a tandem jump in August.

A tightly packed skydiving plane carrying 18 people also landed upside down in an Acampo vineyard last May, resulting in harrowing footage of the accident.

While there is no official count of fatalities, a review of news stories shows that at least 18 people have now died in Lodi-related parachute accidents since 1981.

The FAA continues to investigate the August fatalities at the center, Gregor said.

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, introduced a bill this year that would allow local authorities to enforce federal laws on parachuting. She said she introduced the bill because the FAA has failed to take action on problems at the Lodi center. Gregor has declined to comment on her bill.

The bill was approved by the Assembly on a 76-0 vote last month and has been forwarded to a Senate committee.

Watch as a plane full of skydivers flips over and crashes and the skydivers escape the plane. Sebastian Alvarez was on the Cessna 208, wearing a helmet camera and capturing dramatic moments as the plane crashed in a Lodi vineyard, clipping a grape

Bee staff writer Cathy Locke contributed to this report.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

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