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Tragedy Mars Tsunami Skydiving Event

It was a beautiful, clear day early last Thursday afternoon when Chad Zielinski joined fifteen other Tsunami skydivers aboard the DeHavilland Twin Otter aircraft for the ride that took them up to 13,000 feet in the azure skies above San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.

A little over 12 noon, Zielinski exited the aircraft along with the other skydivers, taking in the breathtaking view of the Caribbean, but sometime during his dive, something went terribly wrong causing the California native to plunge to his death into the deep blue, about a quarter mile from the Belize Barrier Reef lying east of San Pedro Town.

ChadAccording to the skydivers who were up in the air with Zielinski, everything was fine during their exit from the aircraft, but for reasons unknown to them, Chad’s main parachute and reserve failed to deploy during his descent.

“This afternoon one of our very experienced sky divers was flying and when he was flying on this jump with a couple of other people, a couple other jumpers, as he was flying over the water, the other jumpers successfully deployed their parachutes and he was seen going all the way and impacting with the water without using his parachutes,” Rich Grim, President of Tsunami Skydivers Incorporated (TSI) and event organizer told 7News last Thursday. “We can rule out that it was a parachute malfunction. Neither of his parachutes were deployed. We inspected his gear and it was in perfect working order and what we think happened is that he lost track of his altitude, he was out over the ocean, and we don’t know if he had a problem with his wing seat material getting caught up in something or he just lost track of altitude and he never had a chance to deploy either parachute.”

Search & RescueDuring his jump, Chad was wearing the “winged” clothing that allows skydivers to stay aloft longer during their descent, giving them more “flying” time above. Most skydivers also carry the automatic deployment device with them installed in their equipment, so that if for some reason they fail to deploy their chute at a certain altitude, the device would do it automatically for them. Chad Zeilinski did not carry one of this with him during his fatal plunge, and he impacted into the choppy seas at over one hundred miles per hour.

Efforts to locate the skydiver were immediately launched by sea and air and at about 2:00 p.m. last Thursday, an Aqua Dives boat from the scuba dive operation at the Sunbreeze Hotel recovered Chad’s body across the barrier reef in deep waters.

Zeilinski’s body was transported quickly to the Sunbreeze dock, where doctors awaited but to no avail as he had died on impact. According to Grim, an inspection of Chad’s primary and secondary parachutes carried out by the Tsunami instructors showed that they were in working condition and ruled out any malfunction of the chutes. “In skydiving you can’t make too many errors and unfortunately there were a number of errors made and when you have your parachutes you have to use them and we don’t know what happened and we’re not going to speculate,” said Rich Grim last Thursday. “We just know his equipment was in good working order and wasn’t used. He could have passed out for some reason, he could have had a medical problem, he could have just lost track of his altitude. We don’t want to speculate about what happened. It’s a tragedy. He was a very good friend of ours, good friend of the jumping community, and a very experienced skydiver so again we can’t speculate on what happened. All we know is that his gear was inspected by instructors’ examiners.”

Grim and friends described Chad Zeilinski as an experienced skydiver who had been making jumps for 9 years and knew the hazards of the sport. Before his fatal skydive, Chad had successfully completed one jump during the early morning last Thursday. He had been accompanied to Belize by his significant other, Sara, who also took part in the jump that Chad was killed. Close friends of Chad Zielinski poured out their sentiments on the web: “All I can say is my heart hurts especially for his two teenage daughters who idolized their daddy! They lost their daddy way too young! And my heart hurts for Sara who has lost the love of her life…seeing them together was incredible and made you want to find someone to love as much as they loved each other!” “Chad was larger then life…” “You could tell he loved his mom….and his kids. He’d light up when he talked about them” and “You’ve touched a great many lives with your giving spirit and love.”

A “Memorial Skydive” in honor of Chad Zeilinski was conducted by the Tsunami Skydivers last Friday, and according to Rich Grim, knowing Chad, he would be “looking on from above”. Despite the tragic accident, the skydiving event continued throughout the weekend, with many San Pedro natives taking part in the thrilling sport.

The postmortem conducted on Chad Zeilinski’s body concluded that he died from “traumatic shock due to skydiving injuries”. Investigators say they will now try to ascertain exactly what caused Zielinksi’s parachute to remain closed. Chad Zeilinski’s body was to be cremated last Friday and transported to the U.S.A. where a ceremony was to take place to scatter his ashes high over the skies, a place which he had loved to belong.

Photo Caption:
1. Tsunami Skydivers perform memorial jump in memory of Chad.
2. Chad having a good time in San Pedro on a sunset cruise.
3. Search and rescue efforts for Chad took place both by air and sea.

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