CALVERTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The heartbroken family of a New York City correction officer who was killed while skydiving on Long Island is speaking out as the Federal Aviation Administration investigates the accident.
Gary Messina wanted to toast his birthday with an unforgettable adventure. He would have turned 26 on Thursday.
“He’s going to be missed,” his brother, Anthony Messina, told CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang. “I love you, Gary. Happy birthday. I wish you were still here.”
Witnesses said the parachute did not open, killing Messina and critically injuring his instructor, 28-year-old Christopher Scott, during a tandem jump at Skydive Long Island in Calverton on Wednesday.
It’s still not clear what exactly happened during the jump, but the possibility of a dust devil is being investigated, 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reported.
“A dust devil is essentially almost a miniature tornado,” said Jim Crouch of the United States Parachute Association.
The company’s owner, Ray Maynard, released a statement expressing his condolences and vowing to work with investigators.
Messina was born and raised in Medford, Long Island, where he was well-known and liked. His brother said Messina was “a great guy” and called him his best friend.
“I gave him a nickname, ‘Go-Hard,’ because everything he did, he went hard, 100 percent,” Anthony Messina said.
Neighbors and relatives said Messina was a devoted father to his 5-year-old son, Jake.
“Jake, I don’t know what they’re going to do with him,” said family friend Ron Scarpati. “They were so close.”
“He was proud of his job, a great corrections officer and a father like you wouldn’t believe,” his brother said. “His son loves him so much, and he loves that boy.”
Along with loved ones, friends and neighbors are focusing on how Messina lived, not how he died.
“If there was something I needed, he would come,” said Scarpati. “He was just a great kid. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
Messina worked at Rikers Island. Norman Seabroo, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, called Messina a “great officer with so much promise.”
Though Messina’s thrill seeking turned tragic, family members say he would have wanted to go doing something he loved.
“We’re going to ‘go hard,’ Gary,” his brother said to him. “I love you.”
The United States Parachute Association estimates there are more than 3 million jumps each year. The organization says last year, there were 24 skydiving fatalities.
Skydive Long Island was in the headlines in 2012 when a skydiving student, on her first tandem jump ever, was left dangling from a 70-foot tree after suddenly violent winds sent her and her instructor way off course.
The company says it offers the highest jumps on Long Island at 13,500 feet. It was back open for business on Thursday.
Anthony Messina posted on Facebook that service for his brother will be held at McManus-Lorey Funeral Home in Medford on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Messina will be buried Monday.
“Thank you all for the love and support,” Anthony Messina posted. “We are all so Blessed to have known and loved Gary. He has made a mark on all of us.”
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