ZEPHYRHILLS — An experienced skydiver performing a practice jump as part of a team died Saturday after landing in a pond at high speed, according to information from Skydive City, where the team launched.
Keith Murray, 50, of Tampa was performing a jump with three other team members and a videographer, according to a statement released by Skydive City president and general manager David TK Hayes.
After six years and more than a thousand jumps, Lauren Murray, 26, said she had let go of some of the dread that comes with knowing her father was passionate about such an inherently dangerous sport.
"I think everyone had just kind of gotten over the fear of him doing it," Lauren said. "You know the risk, but it becomes normal."
So when the news came that Murray initiated a fatal turn at too low a height Saturday, it was a complete shock, Lauren said.
"He was very experienced," Lauren said. "He'd drive up in his camper every weekend and stay right on the cross zone. He'd jump multiple times a day all weekend when he could."
Hayes said Murray's parachute deployed normally, and his flight down was uneventful until the landing.
Murray initiated a turn too low to the ground and hit a one-acre pond at a high rate of speed, Hayes said. Several local skydivers trained as paramedics or with other medical experience responded. Murray was given CPR and other assistance before getting transported to Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, but could not be revived, Hayes said.
The local skydiving community was shaken by the accident. Those who had gathered in the bar at Skydive City on Sunday said Murray had learned to jump at that site and developed his passion there. He was a friend and a part of the community, they said.
"It's a very tight-knit community," Lauren Murray said. "He had a lot of friends who live right there at the drop zone. They'd jump all day and then they'd all hang out and party. My dad really enjoyed not just the jumping but the community."
Lauren said her dad had always wanted to try skydiving, but it wasn't until her parents divorced and Lauren moved away for college that her dad took up the sport. He tried it and was hooked.
"Wherever we went around the country, he would find a drop zone and he would go," Lauren said. "He met people all over the world and got into some really fun group adventures."
Murray's Facebook page showcases his interest in skydiving and several friends have paid tribute with pictures of him jumping from planes.
Teresa Lentini Hlywa lived in the same neighborhood as Murray and convinced him to go skydiving with her after she showed him a video of her jumping on her 50th birthday. The two instantly became skydiving buddies, and would drive up to Zephyrhills together every weekend.
Lentini Hlywa said Murray quickly progressed and surpassed her in skill, but he never ditched her for more advanced partners.
"He just was really skilled and understood aerodynamics and how to use his body," Lentini Hlywa said. "Instead of saying, 'I'm going go jump with these other guys,' he pulled me up to his level."
Lentini Hlywa said Murray was always a gentleman, despite the raw, crass nature of some who participate in the sport. In addition to skydiving, Murray owned a small software development firm and loved craft beer and wingsuit flying.
Murray was a well-known skydiver with at least 900 jumps at Skydive City alone, Hayes said. He was training to compete at the USPA National Skydiving Championships in Illinois next month, Hayes said, and planned to visit his daughter Lauren in Michigan on the same trip.
Lauren said her dad had talked about taking her skydiving, but they hadn't had the chance. Now, she said, she'll never try the sport.
At least five other people have died during jumps at Skydive City in the past four years.
"When you skydive, you know and accept the risks," Lentini Hlywa said. "But this is my third skydiving family member I've lost this year, which is unbelievable. He and I were so close and he was so special to me. It just ripped my heart out."
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.