Auburn thrill seeker dies in skydiving incident

Haden Wilkinson wants everyone to know one thing about his best friend: He was a bad*ss with a big heart.

Sawyer Campbell, sophomore in building science at Auburn, died on Sunday after his second airplane jump of the day.

“He should have gotten picked up by Red Bull,” Wilkinson said. “He was that kind of person. I want everyone to know him for how cool he was, how adventurous he was, how kind-hearted he was.” 

Campbell, 21, jumped from 10,000 feet. Tuskegee Police Department and Fire Medics responded to a call on Sept. 9, at about 12:45 p.m. Chief of Police Marquez James confirmed the accident was caused by complications with the parachute. The incident is still under investigation. 

Campbell was a part of Skydive Tennessee. The Skydive Tennesse family said he was a close member and excelled in the field. 

“His amazing energy he carried with him was contagious,” Skydive Tennessee said in a statement. “He was always eager to learn. He took to the sky like a bird with wings — you could tell he was home.”

Jason Walker, an employee who worked closely with him, posted about his student on Facebook. 

“This one has been tough … first time for me to lose one of ‘my kids,'” Walker wrote in the post. “He was a great student and an amazing human being. Blue Skies, my son. You will be missed.”

Campbell was an avid thrill seeker, having jumped from planes more times than he could count. He topped out at 170 mph on his Honda CRV 1000. He wanted to get into the more dangerous cave diving. His skydiving hero was professional skydiver and base jumper Jeb Corliss. Campbell scuba dived, base jumped and power lifted with Wilkinson, senior in kinesiology. 

According to the United States Parachute Association, the association recorded 24 fatal skydiving accidents in the U.S. out of roughly 3.2 million jumps. That’s about one fatality per 133,571 jumps.

One of the first skydiving trips was with Wilkinson and Campbell’s good friend Ethan Sanderson, junior in systems managements. 

Sanderson first met Campbell on homecoming night in high school. They later reconnected in college, realizing then they were at the same party way back when. 

When they got to college, the men did not spend much time apart. 

“No one in my life has ever cared so much about me so quickly,” Sanderson said. “He took me under his wing, and there wasn’t a single day when he didn’t invite me to hang out.”

Wilkinson had a similar experience with Campbell — always feeling loved and appreciated. 

Wilkinson and Campbell been best friends since eighth grade when Wilkinson bought an XBox game Campbell had modified. They hung out almost every single day since then. 

“I am a stiff, and I am not afraid to admit it,” Wilkinson said. “Without him, I just — growing up would not have been fun. I, 100 percent, mean that. If I had hung out with anyone else, they would not have brought out the side of me that I am glad he brought out.”

They began going to the gym together, and Wilkinson said his daring friend surpassed him in strength quickly. He said Campbell was built like a rock and was known for never wasting time he could be doing something with.  

“He is the most wild guy I have ever met,” Wilkinson said and laughed. “He got me into so much trouble growing up.” 

Wilkinson and Campbell graduated from Huntsville High School together and moved on to bigger things at Auburn. They lived together sophomore year with Campbell’s Rottweiler Ascom, named after a military communication channel. 

“[Ascom] is a spoiled brat,” Wilkinson said. “[Campbell and Ascom] were best buds. [Campbell] talked to him like he was a human.” 

From the start of their friendship, Campbell challenged Wilkinson, pushing him out of his comfort zone and making him try new things. 

Wilkinson said they loved to ding-dong-ditch people when they were boys. They threw on hunting ghillie suits, would ring neighbors’ doorbells and lie hiding in the yard where they could not be seen. 

“With [Campbell], there was never an option for us to just sit there and do nothing,” Wilkinson said. “He’d say, ‘Seriously, let’s just walk outside, and we will figure it out from there,’ and we always did.” 

Whether good or bad, they always found something to do. Sanderson said when Campbell set his mind on something, he wouldn’t let it go. He would pester someone until they made something happen — put words to action. 

Wilkinson said no matter how horribly people treated Campbell, he was always forgiving, loving and honest. 

“There will never be a day that passes that I don’t think about you, Sawyer Campbell. Rest easy bud,” Wilkinson wrote in a post on Facebook. 

In memory of Campbell, a GoFundMe was set up by the skydiving community in support of his family. 

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