Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Public safety

Instructor tried to save skydiver

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NEW PORT RICHEY — Having seen the video that captured the last 60 seconds or so of the skydivers' lives, Detective William Lindsey could say only one thing about Orvar Arnarson, a man he never met:

"He was a hero. He died a hero."

The video, from a camera on Arnarson's helmet, gives investigators their best clues as to why two Icelandic skydivers fell to their deaths Saturday at Skydive City in Zephyr­hills.

The video indicates that the student, Andrimar Pordarson, 25, was unable to yank the pull cord on his parachute, said Lindsey, a detective with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. It's unclear whether Pordarson was unconscious or why he was unable to activate his parachute, Lindsey said.

But the instructor, Arnarson, 41, tried to save him. He tried to pull the cord, Lindsey said, but he couldn't open the chute in time.

There was no dialogue in the video, which Arnarson had planned to use for instructional purposes.

"They were falling at 120 mph," Lindsey said. "All you can hear is wind."

The men, visiting Florida with other skydivers from Iceland, jumped about 10 a.m. Saturday.

Pasco deputies and Zephyrhills police spent several hours searching before deputies in a helicopter spotted the bodies at 7:30 p.m. Saturday off Yonkers Road, south of the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport. The medical examiner determined both men died of blunt force trauma.

The Sheriff's Office has received numerous media requests for the videotape from the jump. The agency also heard from the skydivers' family members, who begged for the video not to be released, Lindsey said.

At a news conference Tuesday, the Sheriff's Office described the clues gleaned from the videotape but said it would not be released. The agency cited an exemption under Florida's public records law for recordings depicting the killing of a person.

"It's a very sad ending to two people's lives who were going out there for enjoyment," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said.

Jim Crouch, director of safety and training at the U.S. Parachute Association, said instructors in America are trained not to try to save a student past the 2,000-foot altitude mark. After that point, he said, instructors are taught to deploy their own parachute and hope the student is saved by the reserve parachute.

Crouch called the case "very unusual." He hasn't seen the video but said there could be several factors, like tumbling out of control, that would either prevent or make dangerous an opportunity to grab and save a falling student.

"If a student is not in control," he said, "it can be difficult to catch somebody in free fall like that."

While the main parachutes were never activated, both packs had backup chutes that deployed. But they did not open in time to stop the divers, Lindsey said. The Federal Aviation Administration will send investigators later this week to look at the equipment, the Sheriff's Office said.

Family and members of the men's skydiving group could not be reached Tuesday afternoon. But a MySpace profile of Arnarson, last updated in 2008, is still viewable.

He was from the capital city of Reykjavik and said he liked to meet positive people. A photo album features jumpers leaping from high cliffs into gorges and seas of clouds, or belly-down in free fall, silhouetted by the setting sun behind them.

One photo shows Arnarson strapped into his parachute pack with his back toward a plane's instrument panel. He wears a smile and mismatched gloves in the thumbs up position.

On another page, he reveals that he loved all kinds of music, watched comedies on TV and hoped to have kids some day.

His list of heroes: "Good people who enjoy life."

Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

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