|Chad Hansel Zielinski and his girlfriend Sara
Skydiving is a sport that attracts those who seem to defy death by leaping from heights unnatural to humans. Despite the obvious risks, the sport has an admirable safety record, but when accidents do happen, they are usually deadly.
This was the case on Thursday, February 16th, when a skydiver participating in the second annual “Boogie in Belize” skydiving rally fell to his death. US national, 45-year-old Chad Hansel Zielinski was part of a group of 125 skydivers participating in this year’s event. Around midday Thursday, 14 skydivers went up in the plane on a standard “load.” Chad was with his girlfriend Sara, and both were wearing winged suits that allow skydivers to stay aloft longer. They both jumped from the plane from a height of about 13 thousand feet above the sea. When it was time to deploy the chute, Sara deployed hers, and once stable, she looked for her companion but he was nowhere in sight. Others that were on the jump saw Zielinski fall all the way to the water. After an intensive search around the reef, the crew spotted the victim face down near the reef. Immediately, boats that were on standby found the body with the help of the parachute plane circulating the location from above. Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) was performed on him once he was brought aboard a boat, but the attempt was futile as he apparently died on impact.
Friends of Zielinski say he was a very experienced skydiver. Rich Grimm, who organized the San Pedro event, said both Zielinski and Sara were very experienced including not only jumping from planes, but from balloons and base jumping. Grimm said that Zielinski was not wearing an auto-deploy device that many skydivers use which automatically deploys a chute once a certain altitude is reached.
According to the medical team, the equipment and body were immediately examined, but there was no indication that there was an attempt to deploy neither the primary, nor secondary chute. It appears the equipment was in working condition, but Grimm did not want to speculate how this tragedy occurred. Once Zielinski’s body was retrieved from the waters off San Pedro Town it was transported to the airstrip, then to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) in the same twin-otter airplane that he had used for his final jump only hours before. A post mortem examination was performed in Belize City that concluded Zielinski died of multiple traumatisms or traumatic shock caused by the impact of the fall.
Grimm went on to say that this is tragic and these accidents are very rare. However, with most extreme sports, there are inherent risks. Grimm emphasized, “This sport allows little room for error. We just know his equipment was in good working order and wasn’t used. He could have passed out for some reason, he could have had a medical problem, he could have just lost track of his altitude. It’s a tragedy. He was a very good friend of ours, good friend of the jumping community, and a very experienced skydiver, so again we can’t guess on what happened.” Grimm further stated, “A tragedy in a sport where the adrenaline rush comes with an undertone of possible disaster, […] and on this day, no one can quite say what caused Chad Zielinski’s thrill from a sport he loved to turn to a deadly tragedy.” The team cancelled all jumps for that day and resumed on Friday where they held a memorial jump in his honor.
Anne Helliwell was a longtime friend and confidant of Chad’s. “Chad was a dear close friend of mine; he was an avid skydiver, base jumper and pilot. He had a business in California called Catalina Computers, and I must add that he was very good with computers. He was very well-rounded and had his fingers in all sorts of little pies; he was into real estate, computers, and also a thrill seeker. Chad started his career in 1979 with a wide range in daredevil sports including balloon, base and tandem jumping, wing suits and sky diving.” Helliwell has been involved in the skydiving business since 1980, her track record consists of approximately 7,500 skydives and 1,100 base jumps.
Chad leaves behind his family, significant other and many friends. The plane used during this year’s rally is based in Chad’s hometown. Chad’s body was cremated in Belize and his remains were flown back home by his skydiving friends on that plane.