Officials: Instructor May Have Had Medical Condition Or Trauma To His Neck

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — What happened in the sky?

More was learned Monday about the tragic sky diving accident that has shattered two families in the Tri-Sate Area.

The question is did something incapacitate the instructor, causing him and a father of three to plunge to their deaths?

Jumpers say millions of people sky dive every year knowing it’s a sport that comes with risks, sometimes fatal. On Friday, 49-year-old Manhattan real-estate executive and father of three David Winoker took a tandem jump and died crashing to the ground tethered to his instructor, CBS 2’s Emily Smith reported.

It happened at Skydive the Ranch, a school in upstate Gardiner, N.Y. Witnesses, including family and friends there for a 50th birthday party, thought a parachute malfunction was to blame. The ranch’s owner spoke to CBS 2’s Amy Lauren on Monday night and described the horror as family members searched the skies for the two men.

“The parachute itself was just in a continuous right-hand turn,” owner Joseph Richards said. “David’s wife, you know, asked me like where’s David? And I said we don’t know where David is right now. You know, like, where’s my husband? We don’t know where he is? We are gonna go look for him.”

Richards said witnesses saw the parachute open for at least four seconds before the two men went spiraling into an apple orchard. Desperate attempts to revive the men were unsuccessful.

“It looks as if the instructor had tried to release one of the steering toggles and then was somehow incapacitated,” Richards said.

Plattekill police released some information Monday, saying the instructor, 26-year-old Aleksandr Chulsky, had a medical condition or some kind of trauma to his neck, maybe from a significant jolt from opening the chute, causing the two men to hit the ground. Ed Scott of the U.S. Parachute Association said the student is trained to take over in the case of something happening to the instructor.

According to the U.S. Parachute Association, 3 million people skydive in this country every year. In 2011 there were 21 related fatalities. Of those, just one was a tandem jump like this fatal incident.

Smith reported the instructor was from Brooklyn and had the required experience — three years and 500 jumps. There are several tributes to Chulsky on YouTube and Facebook. His funeral was held Monday.

At Winoker’s home in Chappaqua, N.Y., Smith found security blocking their private driveway and neighbors who wanted to protect the privacy of a family grieving the loss over Father’s Day weekend.

Preliminary autopsies deem the deaths accidental. Winoker’s funeral was on Father’s Day, his father’s 83rd birthday.

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