Cause of death in parachute accident questioned
FREDERICK, Okla. — The commanding officer of the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team said he was surprised by the chief medical examiner’s preliminary ruling in the death of a Seymour man involved in a parachute accident Tuesday night.
Col. Raymond Steeley said that although Jim Yost’s cause of death was ruled as blunt force trauma from the fall, medical personnel who attended to the 69-year-old funeral director at the scene said he was in cardiac arrest.
Witnesses on the ground saw Mr. Yost go limp after he deployed his reserve parachute following a malfunction with the main parachute, then watched him descend into a wheat field. Three medical personnel, including a doctor and emergency medical technician, who attended to Mr. Yost on the ground reported he was unconscious and had shallow breathing, and they administered chest compressions, Steeley said.
Steeley said Mr. Yost was an experienced parachutist, with 36 jumps while on active duty and about 10 jumps with the Airborne Demonstration Team. He had done everything right up to the point when he apparently suffered a heart attack and lost consciousness, Steeley said.
“What aggravates me is, Jim Yost would be severely (irked) right now by the implication that he was not doing something right,” Steeley said. “He did everything that he was supposed to have.”
Although the chief medical examiner’s office released initial findings Wednesday, a full report was still pending this morning, according to Amy Elliott, the chief administrative officer in Oklahoma City.
Mr. Yost, a retired U.S. Army captain who served in the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Paratroop Infantry Regiment during the Vietnam War, was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“I was called by the hospital at approximately 10 p.m. (Tuesday) and was told by the attending doctor that she had examined Capt. Yost and did not observe any trauma or bleeding,” a release from Steeley stated. “Jim didn’t report to anyone at ADT that he felt ill or otherwise in ill health prior to the jump.”
However, Steeley said in an interview today that one person reported being told by Mr. Yost that nausea caused him to cut his morning run short.
A Federal Aviation Administration inspector came to the site following the accident, Steeley said.
“Initial indications from the FAA is that the organization was not at any fault,” he said. “They gave us the thumbs-up to continue the jump school.”
The organization, which operates from Frederick Army Air Field in southwestern Oklahoma, has enabled 10,000 jumps from aircraft — and this was the first death or even injury — associated with a jump, Steeley said.
Steeley said Mr. Yost completed training with the Airborne Demonstration Team, formed in 1996, and joined the group in January of this year.
He described Mr. Yost as “absolutely a larger-than-life person, always jovial, always happy. ... I loved the fact that he had parachuted into Normandy.”
The group’s flag was lowered to half-staff, and “Taps” was played in remembrance of Mr. Yost, the retired colonel said.
Mr. Yost was among 15 jumpers aboard the C-47 aircraft, a type used during the invasion of Normandy during World War II. The jumpers included a jump master, a master jump master and 13 other jumpers — all of whom jumped, Steeley said.
Steeley said Mr. Yost jumped from an altitude of 1,500 feet, and 10 to 15 witnesses on the ground reported seeing him fall about 500 feet — some estimated as little as 300 feet or as much as 700 feet — before activating his main canopy.
Witnesses said a small area of the main chute did “not look right,” and it’s thought a broken steering line may have caused a small lobe on the side, separate from the canopy’s main lobe, Steeley said.
About the same time, Mr. Yost started to deploy the reserve chute, releasing the reserve rip cord and throwing the reserve canopy out to the side so it wouldn’t go up inside the main canopy, Steeley said.
Everything up to that point was “picture perfect,” Steeley said. But at that point, all action stopped, and “none of the rest of the steps took place.”
“He had the appearance of going limp in the harness,” Steeley said. The colonel said he believes Mr. Yost “landed limply” because he was unconscious.
The fall apparently resulted in a broken pelvis and broken ribs, Steeley said. But what was apparent to those who examined him on the ground was cardiac arrest.
“He was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” but they were unable to revive him, Steeley said.
Mr. Yost’s parachute was one that he owned and packed himself, Steeley said.
“It was probably one of the best parachutes available on the market,” he added.
Steeley said about 95 percent of parachutes used on the jumps are “organizational chutes” that are packed by the individual jumper.
Steeley said Mr. Yost — a former ultramarathoner and avid cyclist — was among the older jumpers in the organization but was “in such excellent condition” physically.
“We all loved Jim,” he said. “He fit into our organization perfectly.”
Mr. Yost and his family are the longtime operators of Owens Funeral Home in Champaign and Blair-Owens Funeral Home in Mahomet. Arrangements are pending at Owens Funeral Home, 101 N. Elm St., C.