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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 7, 2006

FAA assumes jumpers know risks

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

National statistics compiled by a membership association of skydivers show an average of about 32 fatalities a year occur nationwide in a sport that is essentially "self-regulated," according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Still, the United States Parachute Association, a voluntary association of skydivers and skydiving centers, said skydiving isn't as dangerous as many people believe, given the number of jumps each year.

"In my opinion, it's unusually safe," said Scott Breir, of Skydive Arizona in Eloy, Ariz.

Breir said Skydive Arizona operates the busiest drop zone in the world, with a total of about 100,000 jumps there a year.

"A lot of people have this impression that it's this deathdefying, crazy, daredevil kind of sport, and it's really not. Most of the people who are in our sport are your doctors and professionals, and this is their recreation," Breir said yesterday. "Essentially it's a very relaxing sport."

Statistics on skydiving fatalities compiled by the Parachute Association show that nationally there were 21 skydiving fatalities in 2004, and an average of nearly 32 fatalities per year since 1992. The worst year was 1998, when 44 died, according to the association.

The FAA said its regulations govern the aircraft and crew involved in skydiving, and when and where jumps are allowed. Certification is required for the people who pack parachutes. But the FAA warns that its skydiving regulations are designed to ensure the safety of those who do not jump.

For those who do, FAA officials are given to believe that the jumper "has assessed the dangers involved and assumes personal responsibility for his or her safety," according to the agency's Web site.

With skydivers free-falling at speeds of up to 300 mph, "nobody would argue that skydiving is a safe thing to do," warns the Web site for the Parachute Association.

"Generally, safety in skydiving is determined by the individual. Rarely do skydiving accidents result from equipment failure or bad luck. Skydivers use good preparation and judgment to manage the obvious and inherent risks," according to the association.

Breir said the industry has made major advances in safety gear, including adoption of Automatic Activation Devices, which are microcomputers that calculate the altitude and rate of descent of a jumper and deploy either the main or reserve canopies at preset altitudes.

"The technology has come a long way in the past 10 years," he said.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.