A 28-year-old woman died while skydiving after she struck a big-rig trailer and then crashed into a California highway, authorities said.
The woman was parachuting with about six other people just after 2 p.m. Thursday when the accident occurred in Acampo in the Lodi area, about 35 miles south of Sacramento, California Highway Patrol officer Ruben Jones said at a news conference.
Jones said the woman struck the rear of the trailer and then hit the right-hand shoulder of the road. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Bill Dause, the owner of Skydive Lodi Parachute Center in Acampo, identified the woman as having the first name Maria and said she is from Colombia. He said at a press conference Friday that she was an experienced skydiver with more than 150 jumps and that she had visited his center on numerous occasions for jumps.
The day of the accident it “was a little bit gusty” outside, but nothing she had not dealt with before, Dause said. He told reporters that he believes the wind Thursday afternoon was roughly 15 to 20 miles per hour.
Dause, an experienced skydiver himself, said that after Maria jumped from the plane she “wasn’t able to make it back off of the freeway.” He said everyone else who had jumped stopped before reaching the freeway and landed safely.
“Why she went that far downwind, nobody knows. That was a decision she made,” he said, adding that her parachute was properly working.
According to Dause, experienced jumpers who have an “A” license — which is obtained after 25 jumps — decide for themselves if it is too windy for them to jump. He said some experienced skydivers have jumped when winds were 30 miles per hour.
Students are not allowed to jump when winds reach 15 miles per hour, he said.
A spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration told NBC News the agency is investigating the accident.
One woman said her father and her brother were driving on the highway and witnessed the accident. She told NBC affiliate KCRA in Sacramento that they are “traumatized” by what happened.
“My dad said he never wants to see anything like that again,” the woman said, adding that the skydiver was “struggling” against the wind before she crashed. “Their body was just moving really, really fast. That’s what really kind of got (to) him.”
Rick Costa told the outlet that sometimes he sees skydivers fly over the highway and land on the grass on the other side. He told KCRA he always thought it was dangerous.
“Unless they change something, it’s only a matter of time before more and more of that happens and more people die,” he said.
Dause told reporters that his skydiving center being so close to the highway is an issue, and they always tell jumpers to check the wind and stay upwind away from the roadway. He said three previous jumpers have accidentally landed on the highway but did not suffer serious injuries.
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