Owner of Kansas Drop Zone recalls fatal skydiving accident - KCTV5 News

Owner of Kansas Drop Zone recalls fatal skydiving accident

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The victim in Saturday's skydiving fatality in Franklin County, KS, has been identified as 54-year-old Brad Giffin of Wichita.

The Franklin County Sheriff's Office said Giffin's body was discovered Saturday evening in a field outside Ottawa. He was about a mile from where he was expected to land.

The Federal Aviation Administration is conducting an investigation into the accident.

A key part of that investigation will likely be the owner of Kansas Drop Zone, which was conducting the jumps on Saturday, William McCauley.

In a wide-ranging interview, McCauley told KCTV5 News that he was "angry" at what he calls the "misinformation" being put out by the media. He is also clearly shaken by Giffin's death.

McCauley told us that Saturday's jumps were part of a "soft opening" for Kansas Drop Zone, with about 20 to 30 invited guests in attendance, some experienced skydivers, some not. For his part, Giffin had been skydiving for more than three decades, a veteran with more than 500 jumps under his belt.

We asked McCauley to elaborate on the events that led to the tragedy.

"There were four people on the plane, which was making a jump run. There were two solo jumpers and two tandem jumpers," McCauley said.

Giffin was a solo jumper who McCauley said left with plane with the other solo jumpers at the same time.

"At the break off altitude of 4,500 feet, everything appeared normal. The person who dove with Brad Griffin said his dive was flawless. He had a normal skydive," McCauley said.

When he opened his chute, that diver turned in the opposite direction of Giffin. At that point, McCauley said Giffin apparently went into a free fall.

McCauley was on the ground observing the jumps.

"I saw and heard the first and second parachute open, but didn't see or hear the third parachute.  At that point, I went over and interviewed the guy who jumped with Gifffin. He said he thought everything was OK, and that Giffin had deployed his chute,'" McCauley continued.

McCauley said he jumped in his car and drove to where he thought Giffin would have landed, expecting to find him standing on the road waiting for a ride.

After checking the roads for about 30 minutes, it was obvious Giffin wasn't where he was supposed to be, and it became clear he was lost, injured, or dead.

"We were running out of daylight, so I had to make a decision. I called the sheriff's office, which I had earlier alerted to the day's events. With my aircraft and the sheriff's deputies, we found the body in about a half hour," McCauley said, his voice beginning to crack.

"I'm extremely devastated and heart-broken for his family. I'm extremely devastating and heart-broken for the Franklin County Sheriff's Department and the Kansas Highway Patrol to have to stand out there in the field with me, but I'm extremely proud of their professionalism in handling such a devastating incident."  

McCauley said he's been interviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration, and he expects to have a longer and more formal session with them later in the week.

As for what happened, McCauley said the evidence indicates that Giffin, "either couldn't or didn't deploy his main chute, and based on what he saw at the scene, the backup chute was opened at an insufficient height to deploy effectively," leading to Giffin's death.

"All of us have to accept the responsibility and risk as an active skydiver. It's a very slim margin of error. It can be done very safely, but sometimes people make a mistake. In this case, it cost him his life," McCauley said.

As for backup safety devices used by some, but not all facilities, McCauley said they are not required, and that Giffin "knew what he was doing and didn't want one."

McCauley ended the interview choking back tears, telling us that people don't understand how devastating this is for so many. "He was supposed to be going home and visit his grand kids for the first time. Now he's dead. The media just doesn't understand how tough that is."

McCauley said he didn't know Giffin personally. They had been Facebook Friends for about two years. Others at the event, however, were close friends, and they are grieving.

McCauley said he is fully cooperating with the FAA, the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, and the Kansas Highway Patrol.

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