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Air Force Academy cadet had more than 500 jumps before fatal skydiving accident east of Colorado Springs

May 9, 2017 Updated: May 15, 2017 at 10:30 am
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An Air Force Academy senior has been identified as the victim of a fatal parachuting accident near Calhan on Sunday.

Cadet Kaleb Estes, who was set to earn an English degree from the school on May 24, was a veteran skydiver who had made more than 500 jumps before the Sunday incident.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Kaleb Estes and our thoughts are with his friends, classmates and loved ones," academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said in a statement. "We are ready to support Cadet Estes' family as well as his (academy) family through this difficult time."

A 2009 graduate of Hartselle High School in Hartselle, Ala., Estes had attended the University of Alabama-Birmingham before entering the academy. His Facebook profile shows Estes was an avid skydiver long before he entered the academy in 2013.

Deputies were called to a field near the headquarters of Out of the Blue Skydiving off Jones Road just before 1 p.m. Sunday where a parachutist later identified as Estes had a "hard landing," the El Paso County Sheriff's Office reported.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby said 911 callers had started cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the victim before Ellicott firefighters took over. Estes died at the scene.

Estes was not a member of the academy's famed parachuting team. Most cadets, though, are trained in parachuting at the school. Cadets, with permission from their commanders, can join in off-base parachuting.

Estes had filled out paperwork for civilian jumps and had permission, academy officials said.

The Calhan skydiving firm Out of the Blue issued a statement Monday saying it is cooperating with an investigation into the death.

"With heavy hearts, we can confirm that an experienced skydiver passed away yesterday afternoon while participating in a solo jump at Out of The Blue Skydiving," Kendra Boysen with Out of the Blue said in an email to The Gazette. "We are working with the FAA and other authorities to investigate the cause of this tragic accident. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time."

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed it is investigating the incident but had no immediate comment on what might have caused Estes' death.

Kirby said investigators recovered an emergency parachute at the scene but were still hunting for the primary parachute. That's an indication that the jumper might have had a problem with the primary chute and jettisoned it before deploying the emergency canopy.

Estes was using his own gear, Kirby said,

Parachuting is a sport known for its tight safety rules, said Nancy Koreen, a spokeswoman with the Virginia-based U.S. Parachute Association. Of about 4 million parachute jumps a year in America, about 21 result in fatalities.

"Obviously, there are inherent risks - you are jumping out of an airplane," Koreen said. "But the accident risk is extremely low."

Last August, 13 jumpers aboard an Out of the Blue Plane parachuted to safety after the aircraft engine caught fire. The plane made an emergency landing.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx

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