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Two Killed in Las Vegas Skydiving Birthday Gift

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LAS VEGAS (CBS Las Vegas) — A skydiving birthday gift turns deadly for a Las Vegas grandmother.

Two skydivers were killed Sunday as the result of an accident in which the parachute attached to the pair did not properly deploy.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, the Clark County Coroner’s Office identified both victims as Claudette Porter, 75, of North Las Vegas, and James Fonnesbeck, 60, of Weston, Ohio. Fonnesbeck was the tandem skydiving instructor attached to Porter, and worked with Skydive Mesquite as part of a team of skydiving Elvis Presley impersonators.

Officer Jeffrey Smith told the paper that police received an alert about the incident at the Mesquite Municipal Airport around noon from a local 911 call.

While Fonnesbeck was pronounced dead at the scene, Porter was reportedly taken to Mesa View Hospital. However, revival efforts were unsuccessful, and she later died.

It seems to investigators that when the main parachute did not deploy, Fonnesbeck proceeded to open a reserve parachute. However, this secondary parachute became entangled in the malfunctioning main parachute.

“It slowed them down to an extent but not enough,” Smith told the Sun.

Porter’s husband, Jim Porter, told The Associated Press that his wife had been looking forward to the jump arranged by his granddaughter as a gift for her birthday. He said he accompanied his wife on the excursion along with several family members.

“Things like that happen once in a while and there’s just not a whole hell of a lot you can do about it,” Porter said.

He said his wife had been talking about skydiving for at least 20 years.

According to the United States Parachute Association’s website, only 21 people died of skydiving accidents in 2010, out of approximately 3 million total jumps taken in the same calendar year. In other words, the site says, only one in every 141,509 skydivers passes away, based on those statistics.

Skydive Mesquite owner Brad Jessey also noted the unique nature of the incident.

“I’ve been working in skydiving for about 15 years … and I’ve never personally seen this before,” Jessey told the Sun. “It’s extremely rare.”

Smith said that the investigation into both the circumstances surrounding the malfunction, as well as the injuries sustained by Porter and Fonnesbeck, are still under investigation. As of right now, Smith said that the incident is being classified as an accident.

Jessey added that the skydiving community has taken to the Internet in great numbers to express their sorrow over what happened.

“Skydiving is an incredibly … tight-knit community … (and) we’ve gotten hundreds of Facebook hits, e-mails and voicemails sending condolences to both families. Even though (Porter) was only part of (the skydiving community) for a day, we’ve all taken her in as part of our family.”

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