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Why Did Kenneth Richard Owens’ Parachute Fail To Open?

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In a tragic story, Kenneth Richard Owens is dead today after his parachute failed to open during a sky dive on the North Shore Monday. Owens, a 27-year-old Pearl Harbor-based Navy diver, was set to deploy today and so this was a last bit of fun before he left to defend the country. I cannot imagine there grief and shock family is going through. All of these soldiers are true hero’s for defending the country and when a death occurs in a domestic situation like this it is shocking and doesn’t seem fair to me. Last year I represented the family of Ethan Ranz, a war hero from Fertile, Minnesota after he was killed by a drunk driver, 5 days before his discharge and return to his parents home. I cannot imagine a sadder situation. In a small way have seen what the Owens family is going through and I know that there are no easy answers for them.

According to the Star Bulletin story, by Gary T. Kubota and Leila Fujimori Owens had made dozens of jumps since August 2008. He fell 13,000 feet without his parachute opening and was found in Mokuleia.

Owens is believed to be married and have a child. He is from West Chatham, Massachusetts and his parents are David and Mary Owens of West Chatham. Our condolences go out to the family.

The FAA is investigating the circumstances surrounding the accident. According to the Honolulu Star Bulletin investigation:

Owens was in a four-person formation when his main parachute failed to open due to what Hinshaw said was a packing error. "He had a high-speed malfunction, but he should have responded by opening up his reserve."

Hinshaw said Owens was sports-jumping with three others and was on his third jump of the day.

Owens landed in a pond on Dillingham Ranch, authorities said. Skydive Hawaii employees pulled Owens from the pond about five minutes later.

The other three divers landed safely at Dillingham Airfield and gave reports to police, Hinshaw said.

The call came into the Fire Department at 12:27 p.m., and police and fire officials got to the scene quickly and began resuscitation efforts. Owens wa then taken by ambulance to Wahiawa General Hospital.

Owens had 85 to 95 jumps according Skydive Hawaii:

"I remember I congratulated him when he graduated his student program," around September 2008, and he had started sky-diving in August 2008, he said.

"He was a together guy," Hinshaw said. "He seemed to have his wits about him and command over all his facilities. He’s a nice, pleasant guy."

"Skydive Hawaii regrets the loss of his life and mourns the loss with his family and friends. … He had so much potential," Hinshaw said.

Owens packed his own parachute but carried a reserve parachute that was packed by a professional rigger, Hinshaw said.

"It’s rare that someone would have a total malfunction and not deploy their reserve parachute," he said.

Hinshaw understands why Owens used his last day before shipping out to go sky-diving. "The people that kind of get addicted to sky diving, you want the adrenaline, where sky diving does give you the adrenaline," he said. "It’s something that’s very enjoyable.

"He was a wonderful young man," he said. "He was just enjoying life."

The statistics show that injury or death in skydiving is rare. It is actually a pretty safe sport according to the book "Jump! Make Your First Skydive Fun and Easy" by Tom Buchanan:

USPA data for 2000 shows that there were 32 fatalities, and there were 34,217 members of the organization that year. Using these figures defines a fatality rate of 1 per 1,069 members. The fatality numbers will vary significantly from year to year, but a ten year average of data collected between 1991 and 2000 shows one skydiving death was recorded for every 903 members. USPA single year data also show that members made an estimated 2,244,165 jumps in the year 2000, presenting a fatality rate of one death for each 70,130 skydives that year.

The President of Skydive Hawaii, talking to KGMG television news speculated that the problem may be from Owens packing his parachute:

"He did have a good amount of knowledge of sky-diving, he packed his own chute, he was certified to jump by himself," said Frank Hinshaw of Skydive Hawaii.

The 27-year-old and three friends had gone up with Skydive Hawaii, a company Owens first jumped with last year. Hinshaw says Owens used his own chute and packed it himself. Everything was fine during the group’s first two jumps earlier in the day, but the third jump ended in tragedy.

The FAA and police are investigating but Hinshaw speculates the chute may not have been packed properly.

"He made a problem in his packing procedure and probably didn’t close main parachute properly," Hinshaw guessed.

A skydiving expert tells us a jumper is taught to aim for water if half of the parachute malfunctions, but the water didn’t cushion Owens’ fall; his main and reserve parachutes failed to deploy

Something doesn’t add up for me. Owens was plenty experienced and, I think, unlikely to screw up packing his parachute. I wonder who owned the parachute and whether if may have been defective. First the FAA will investigate and they we can look more closely at the situation. Anyone with information is welcome to Comment.