Dream of skydiving ends in fatal fall

For more than 50 years, it had been Claudette Porter’s dream to go sky diving.

So when the 75-year-old celebrated her birthday last month, her family decided to surprise her with a trip to Skydive Mesquite.

"It was supposed to be a nice birthday present," said her son, Doug Porter.

At the Mesquite Municipal Airport on Sunday, Claudette got a chance to live her dream. But tragedy struck. The instructor’s parachutes failed.

She died at a Mesquite hospital shortly after the accident, surrounded by her husband, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom were in attendance for the North Las Vegas woman’s first jump.

Also killed in the tandem jump was instructor James Fonnesbeck, 60, from Weston, Idaho. He died at the scene.

Fonnesbeck had 30 years experience and 11,000 successful jumps on his resume and was on the team of sky-diving Elvis impersonators in the 1992 movie "Honeymoon in Vegas," Skydive Mesquite owner Brad Jessey said.

Jessey said he has been sky diving for 30 years and worked in the industry for 15 years. He started Skydive Mesquite eight years ago.

In all that time, Jessey said his first experience with a sky-diving death was Sunday.

Fonnesbeck was a longtime friend, Jessey said.

"We’ve been getting condolences from hundreds of sky divers from all over the world," he said. "Not just for Jim’s family, but for Claudette’s family as well."

Doug Porter was the lone member of the immediate family not in attendance for Claudette’s jump.

He said his sister, Tammy, called him about the accident on the way to the hospital. A half-hour later, she called back with the dreaded news.

Mom had died.

"I’m pretty angry right now but not at anyone in particular," an emotional Porter said. "God wants to take the best people. Why couldn’t it be an idiot .. . like me?"

Porter moved in with his parents a few years ago, he said. He helped his mother recover after a kidney transplant, and she helped him.

Drug and alcohol addictions had nearly wrecked his life, he said, but his mother’s guidance strengthened him.

"I aspired to be the kind of person she was, but I can’t even get close," he said.

Porter doesn’t blame Skydive Mesquite or Fonnesbeck, he said.

Sometimes "accidents happen," he said.

Even so, sky-diving deaths are rare, with just 21 fatalities in the United States out of nearly 3 million jumps last year.

That equates to one death per 141,509 jumps, according to the United States Parachute Association.

According to the organization’s website, most sky-diving accidents result from human error.

It’s unclear exactly what happened in Sunday’s accident, but Jessey said he couldn’t fathom the experienced Fonnesbeck making an error.

"You would absolutely think not," he said.

Jessey said both chutes were out when the pair hit the ground. The main chute hand become tangled with the backup chute, only slightly slowing their descent.

Sky divers are taught to cut a malfunctioning main chute before deploying a backup chute, he said.

Jessey said his business will be closed while the Federal Aviation Administration investigates the fatalities.

FAA spokesman Mike Fergus in Renton, Wash., said investigators were looking into whether the parachutes had been properly inspected before the jump and were checking on the Cessna 206 airplane and its flying route.

He said federal rules require chutes to be inspected every six months. Backup chutes are required to be packed before jumps by an FAA-certified parachute rigger, while main chutes must be packed with at least the supervision of a certified rigger, Fergus said.

Jessey said the tandem jump was designed to last nearly seven minutes, with as much as 40 seconds of free falling and five to six minutes of gliding over the Mesquite airport before landing.

The airport is about 85 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Several other tandem groups who jumped landed safely, police said.

Among those jumpers was Claudette Porter’s niece, Doug Porter said. He said his mother worked for years in the Clark County clerk’s office.

She was an adventurous woman who was athletic, well-traveled and selfless, he said.

"My mom was my best friend and to me the best person in the world," he said. "I keep thinking she’s still here, and I’m going to wake up from a dream."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

News Videos
Homeless residents speak about safety
The homeless residents living at the corner of Owens Ave. and Main St. reflect on how they feel about their safety after two homeless men died, one was hit crossing the street and another was beat to death by another homeless man. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
Mylar Balloon Demo
NV Energy presented a demonstration Wednesday to depict the damage that can be caused by the release of Mylar balloons.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students. Educators from around the State are bringing the Red for Ed movement to the steps of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, NV, and to the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing