Casa Grande, AZ Parachuting Accident, Jan 1976


Casa Grande, Ariz. -- A young Kaysville, Utah, woman who had been in Casa Grande just five days, died New Year's Day when her main and reserve parachutes apparently failed to open and she plummeted to her death in a skydiving accident at the Casa Grande Municipal Airport.
Authorities identified the woman as STEPHANIE NELSON, 18, whose home was Kaysville and who was attending school in Benton, Wash.
Pinal County Sheriff's deputies, who responded to the 5:37 p.m. call from the airport, said they have turned the investigation over to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Two investigators from the federal agency were in Casa Grande today, interviewing witnesses, employes at the Casa Grande Mortuary (who handled the funeral arrangements), and Casa Grande ParaCenter manager Mike Larson.
Jim Polhamus, general aviation maintenance inspector for the Phoenix office of the FAA, told the Dispatch he is "unsure just what happened up there."
Saying that his investigation had just begun, Polhamus declined to discuss the death at length.
He sidestepped a question about the condition of the victim's chute, except to say that United States Parachute Association safety inspectors have a tendency to "take the chutes apart at the scene, and then we're left without any evidence."
Before questioning, however, Polhamus was heard telling others that MISS NELSON'S parachute had apparently not been tampered with before he was able to inspect it.
Larson told the Dispatch that MISS NELSON was the last person to jump in a group of nine, but that the circumstances surrounding the failure of the chutes to open "are still unknown."
MISS NELSON'S home address in Kaysville was 1042 Bedford Dr.
She was born July 30, 1957 in Blytheville, Ark. MISS NELSON lived in Utah for 10 years, moving there from the state of Washington.
MISS NELSON'S remains will be shipped to Lindquest Kaysville Mortuary in Kaysville for services and burial. The Casa Grande Mortuary handled the arrangements.
Larson said MISS NELSON had apparently made 51 jumps before the fatal one. She had been jumping in small groups since she arrived at the airport.
Larson said the nine in her group on her last jump "would have been the maximum for her ability."
Larson added that he is unsure how many jumps MISS NELSON had made during her five-day stay in Casa Grande. He also added that he had not met the victim before and doesn't know if she came to Casa Grande alone, in a group, or was staying with relatives or friends.
B. J. Worth, a safety officer for the U.S. Parachute Association, has already inspected the chute, Larson said, though he added that he doesn't know if Worth has come to any conclusions.
Worth will assist the FAA in their investigation, Larson added.
Larson added that MISS NELSON was not a member of an international group of jumpers who have been skydiving at the airport for about two weeks.
Jumpers include those from Australia, Sweden, Britain, Switzerland, New Zealand and South Africa, Larson said. They are scheduled to leave the Casa Grande facility sometime around Sunday, he added.
Larson said he did not thoroughly inspect the chute himself, and noted, "I still can't figure out what happened."
Worth was unavailable for comment.
MISS NELSON'S death was the first skydiving fatality at the airport since April of 1975 when Betsy Bradley of North Carolina fell to her death. Mrs. Bradley's was the second of two skydiving deaths last year. Last January, James Heydorn of Stanfield died in a similar accident.

Casa Grande Dispatch Arizona 1976-01-02