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Parachute failure caused death of skydiving instructor, student

By Shavonne Potts
spotts@salisburypost.com
A parachute malfunction caused the deaths of a Salisbury skydiving instructor and his student Saturday in Yadkin County, a medical examiner said Monday.
The instructor, 38-year-old James Paul Pregler, of 210 Foxcress Drive, and student Adam Ryan Howard, 21, of Deep Run in Lenoir County, were harnessed together for a tandem jump shortly after noon at Swan Creek Airport in Jonesville.
Pregler had extensive skydiving experience, his brother said Sunday. The jump was Howard’s first time skydiving.
Dr. James McGrath, of Hoots Memorial Hospital in Yadkinville, said the men died on impact after their main and reserve parachutes failed to open.
Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Atlanta office, would say only that inspectors are examining the parachutes. During the examination, inspectors will look at what is called the automatic deployment unit. That unit makes up the whole parachute system.
“It will automatically deploy a chute. There are two chutes ó a main one and a backup or an emergency chute,” Bergen explained.
Investigators will determine on their own whether the chutes deployed or not, she said. They’ll interview witnesses and view a video of the jump if one exists. It is not uncommon for jumps to be videotaped, she said.
“I believe there is a video, but I’m not sure if we have it or not,” Bergen said.
Bergen said earlier the FAA would also investigate whether the aircraft, a Cessna 206, was being operated properly and whether the parachute was packed correctly. The rest of the investigation will be done by local authorities.
Yadkin County officials declined to comment Sunday, referring questions to the FAA.
News reports said Howard had given his girlfriend the skydiving lesson for her graduation. His girlfriend, whose name has not been released, made a successful jump before Howard and Pregler left the airplane for Howard’s first-ever jump. McGrath, the medical examiner, confirmed those details.
According to WITN, an television station in Washington, N.C., Howard was a senior at East Carolina University, where he majored in construction management. He was also a captain with the Deep Run Volunteer Fire Department.
The aircraft that was used in the skydive was registered to James W. Cockrell, of Swan Creek Road in Jonesville.
Phone calls to the Swan Creek Airport were directed to Carolina Skydiving, where Pregler was an instructor.
Carolina Skydiving did not return phone messages.
McGrath said Pregler and Howard landed in the front yard of a home that bordered the airport.
Pregler’s brother, Steven Pregler, said James had been an avid skydiver for more than 20 years. After graduating from high school in Dubuque, Iowa, where Steven still lives, James joined the Army and served in Operation Desert Storm as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.
James belonged to the Big Patch Skydiving Club that once operated out of Dubuque and now is located in Lancaster, Wisc., his brother said.
“He’s been an instructor most of his adult life,” Steven Pregler said of James, who was the youngest of seven brothers.
James graduated from N.C. State University in Raleigh and was a chemical engineer at a local rubber plant, his brother said.
Pregler is survived by his wife, Donna, and two teenage daughters.

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