NEPHI – Two women are dead after a freak skydiving accident at Nephi City Municipal Airport. Investigators say an instructor, Serena Whelchel from California, and the client, Wendi Gabaldon of Tooele, were doing a tandem dive around seven last night when the accident happened.
Aaron Burton was nearby, and watched the ladies fall. He says, “I was standing with my dad, and they hit hard. It wasn’t like a landing, at all. It was definitely an accident. I got my dad and said, ‘We need to get out there, now.”
Burton says his mother arrived on the scene first, and tried to perform CPR, but, they were taken to a nearby hospital where they were pronounced dead. He says the skydivers were spinning like a corkscrew and moving as fast as anyone could while having a parachute opened. “From what I could see, the parachute was open, but the tips of the parachute were pulled in and flared, like it couldn’t actually grab the wind,” he says.
Investigators say first chute didn’t open properly, and the backup didn’t open in time. Nephi Police Captain Bert Wright says, “The second chute was deployed, but due to the altitude and velocity, both of the individuals hit the ground.”
As for what caused the first chute to malfunction, Wright says they don’t know. They may need to ask for help from the FAA and OSHA to help them determine what went wrong. “We’re looking for other agencies or other entities that have experience with the operations of parachutes. This has never happened, that I’m aware of, at Nephi City’s Airport,” Wright says.