James “Jimmie” Horak, Jr., 56, fell 15,000 feet to his death when his parachute malfunctioned while he was tandem skydiving with a student, David Meek, in Lumberton, Mississippi on Saturday. It was the last day of Meek’s vacation.
Three other skydivers who witnessed the jump told investigators that there appeared to be something wrong with the main parachute when it deployed, causing the two men to become entangled in the lines. A later investigation showed evidence that Horak had cut the main parachute and tried to deploy the backup parachute. When this failed, the two men fell approximately 15,000 feet to the ground.
Police said they received a phone call alerting them to the situation around 1:30 p.m., roughly three hours after the incident. According Meek’s friends, they searched for nearly six hours before they found the two men in a swamp about a mile from the airport in Lumberton, still tethered together. The fall killed Horak, while Meek suffered several injuries, including fractures in his back, face and arm. He was placed on life support in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
According to Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Kathleen Bergen, officials will look into whether the parachutes were properly set up, and whether they were rigged by a qualified person. Meanwhile, local authorities are investigating the incident to determine what likely caused the accident.
Horak was a part-time instructor with Emerald Coast Skydiving Center in Elberta, Alabama. According to his wife, Debbie Horak, he was very safety-conscious and had more than 8,000 jumps worth of skydiving experience. She and the couple’s three children were waiting for the results of an autopsy to find what happened to Horak.