Skydiving Operator Faces Charges Over Deaths Of 2 Jumpers

SHERIDAN, Ore. - In the 22 years Sheridan Sky Sports was in business, 13 people died parachuting from planes it sent from a dirt airstrip in this tiny Western Oregon town.

Operator Ted Mayfield, who closed the center amid investigations by the Federal Aviation Administration and county authorities, now faces manslaughter charges over the deaths of an 85-year-old man who died on his first jump and an experienced jumper whose chute didn't open.

Mayfield says skydiving is a risky sport and the number of deaths at his center, also known as Pacific Parachute Center, is not unusual.

Arleen Richman of the U.S. Parachute Association said one death occurs in every 84,000 jumps. That means Mayfield's center would have had to log more than 49,000 jumps a year to remain within that ratio.

Mayfield says only that his staff flew "thousands of jumps every year," with up to 1,000 jumps on a busy weekend.

An indictment charges Mayfield with "unlawfully and recklessly" causing the deaths of Lee Perry Sr. in February 1994 and Charles Schaefer in September 1993.

Schaefer, 33, a veteran skydiver, was killed when his parachute failed to open over the Sheridan Airport. He had made 53 recreational jumps, and his family said he was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division.

Mayfield's rigger license was revoked Feb. 18, 1994, after an FAA investigation of Schaefer's death. Investigators found that Mayfield had packed Schaefer's parachute with an automatic activating device that Mayfield knew had failed its last calibration test.

Federal officials said in March that although Perry was a novice when he jumped on Feb. 12, 1994, he was given a parachute designed for experienced jumpers. When he jumped, the static line linking him to the plane failed to open the main chute and a line that would have automatically opened his emergency chute was missing.

Mayfield's next court hearing is March 6.