A Pueblo, CO man fell to his death Wednesday when he reportedly failed to deploy his reserve parachute quickly enough.
Tony Usalis,41-years-old, was pronounced dead at the scene just off the North-South runway at the Fremont County Airport after the Fremont County Sheriff's Office and Florence Police Department responded to a call at 5:46 p.m.
Usalis had just finished filming a four-person tandem jump through Skydive the Rockies! and was descending on his main parachute when "he initiated a hard turn at about 400 feet," said Bob Pierotti, owner and operator of Skydive the Rockies!. He said a hard turn is when a skydiver pulls his steering toggle "far and fast."
Pierotti said he wasn't sure why Usalis chose to enter into a hard turn because he already had deployed his parachute and spent three to four minutes of "normal canopy flight" without air traffic before attempting the maneuver.
"He could have landed that parachute," Pierotti said, who saw the accident occur. "The main parachute was perfectly good."
The hard turn triggered "line twists," Pierotti said, which is when the canopy is still inflated, but the suspension, which connects the parachute to the jumper, becomes twisted.
"You can't control the parachute at that point," he said. "He accidentally made the main chute uncontrollable."
Pierotti said he saw Usalis try to "kick out" â€” use momentum to untwist the lines â€” as he was in a steep spiral, and when that didn't work, initiated emergency procedures at 100 feet.
The procedures involved cutting away from the main parachute using a three-ring release system, and deploying the reserve parachute, but "he was just too low for the reserve parachute to inflate."
A reserve canopy needs to be deployed by at least 300-500 feet to work, he said.
The jump was Usalis' 491st, and at 11,000 feet, considered an average jump. Usalis had worked part-time at Skydive the Rockies! for about two years and sold satellite equipment otherwise.
This is the first death of a skydiver for Skydive the Rockies! in Fremont County since they opened in 1996.
Fremont County Coroner Dr. Dorothy Twellman said Usalis suffered extreme trauma to his head, trunk and extremities from the fall. When he landed, she said, the reserve parachute was 10 feet from his body and not yet completely open.
"He just didn't use it in time," Twellman said. Without a canopy to guide him, once he cut away from his main parachute, she said, he was travelling 178 feet per second or about 120 miles per hour.
Pierotti said "the gentle giant," who stood about 6'4", would definitely be missed by his coworkers.
"He was an awesome guy," he said. "He was the most gentle, happy guy who was out here. I never saw him angry, not one time. He was always smiling.