At the Chicago Air & Water Show over the weekend, 13 parachutists held hands and jumped, creating a flying circle and then fanning out – red smoke trailing from their backpacks to resemble a “bomb burst.”
Then U.S. Army skydiver Sgt. First Class Corey Hood, a 32-year-old “American hero,” collided with another jumper and went down.
Police said Hood, who had jumped from aircraft hundreds of times, hit a fellow skydiver mid-air Saturday morning and was knocked unconscious and smashed into a high-rise apartment on his way down to the ground. He was rushed to a nearby hospital in critical condition. He died Sunday.
“At first I thought it was bizarre,” Clayton Myers, a resident who saw the accident, told the Chicago Tribune. “I thought, ‘Who’s falling from the sky?’”
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Witnesses said Hood was limp, falling feet-first to the ground.
“His legs caught the tip of the roof, and then he fell over,” Heather Mendenhall, who was watching nearby, told the newspaper. “It was horrible.”
“You could hear how hard he hit the ground,” Myers said.
“It was unnerving,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “His mouth was moving so he was awake and everything, but his eyes were closed and he didn’t seem to be there.”
A nurse, who was nearby, tried to stem the bleeding from Hood’s head until paramedics could get there. He was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he underwent surgery Saturday afternoon to relieve pressure that built up in his brain following a severe brain injury, according to the Chicago Tribune. But by Sunday afternoon, Hood had died from his injuries.
The other jumper, from the U.S. Navy’s team Leap Frogs, landed on a beach and broke his leg, according to the Associated Press. His name has not been released.
“Our focus right now is on supporting Corey’s family and grieving for our teammate,” Lt. Col. Matthew Weinrich, the Army’s Golden Knights parachute commander, told the Chicago Tribune.
Hood, from Cincinnati, had served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years, collecting numerous awards, including two bronze stars. In 2010, he started jumping in the Army’s parachute team Golden Knights, logging more than 500 free fall jumps and 75 military static line jumps, according to his Army biography. Even so, he told WHAS-TV earlier this year he was scared of heights.
But, Hood said, his parachute was his safety net.
“At about 2,000 feet as soon as the plane flies over, we'll throw out these wind drift indicators,” he told WHAS-TV about the jumps. “What we do is we watch those from 2,000, all the way down to the ground, so based off how those actually drift, it kind of gives us an idea of how to figure out when our actual exit zone is going to be. And as the plane continues to circle the drop zone we'll do dry runs one after another to try to calculate the most precise point to exit the aircraft.”
Asked whether his mom still worried, he said: “always.”
The last Golden Knights jumper killed during a dive was Sgt. First Class Thomas Johnson who died during a 1980 airshow in Fredericksburg, Va., when both his main and reserve parachutes failed to open before he hit the ground, according to the Chicago Tribune.
And others have been injured over the years.
In 2013, two Golden Knights were recognized for saving each others’ lives when their parachutes got tangled during a Florida jump. And last month, a Golden Knight was sent to a hospital in Wisconsin after a bad landing.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called Hood “an American Hero.”
“He defended our freedom, he amazed so many as a member of the Golden Knights,” he said in a statement,” and he will be missed.”