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Navy Parachutist Dies During Demonstration Over Jersey City


The parachutist, a member of the elite Leap Frogs team, plunged into the Hudson River as hundreds watched from Liberty State Park.
JERSEY CITY — A Navy parachutist performing an aerial demonstration for Fleet Week died on Sunday after his chute did not open properly and he plunged into the Hudson River as hundreds of people watched from Liberty State Park.
The man who died, whose name was not immediately released, was a member of the Leap Frogs, the United States Navy parachute team that travels across the country giving demonstrations.
Heather Welch, a Navy spokeswoman, confirmed his death on Sunday afternoon, a few hours after members of the Coast Guard pulled him from the water.
The Leap Frogs were a main attraction of a Fleet Week event billed as an educational celebration in which the public, especially families with children, could learn more about the Navy, the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps by exploring military vehicles and participating in activities.
With the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, the team of parachutists descended from a helicopter around noon. Onlookers described a typical Leap Frogs demonstration, in which the parachutists join hands and twist and turn in the sky. Their yellow and blue parachutes were emblazoned with “NAVY, ” and one parachutist carried a giant American flag that whipped in the wind.
But one parachutist peeled off from the others and slipped out of view.
His parachute, which never fully opened, fluttered to the ground in a nearby parking lot.
Maria Ashley, 49, a spectator, said few people around her realized anything had happened because several tall glass towers on the New Jersey side of the water blocked a view of the parachutist as he went into the river.
But Ms. Ashley said she had thought something had gone awry. “I knew it wasn’ t right because the parachute should be in an arch, ” she said.
The Leap Frogs are made up of active-duty members of the Navy SEALs, members of other Naval Special Warfare units and other personnel who volunteer, according to the SEALs website. The group has been giving demonstrations for decades, and fatal accidents are rare.
In 2015, the Leap Frogs joined the Golden Knights, the Army’s parachute team, in a demonstration at the Chicago Air & Water Show. Master Sgt. Corey Hood died after colliding with one of the Leap Frogs during a stunt, according to Army officials. The Army suspended demonstrations for about seven weeks afterward.
Demonstrations can be dangerous, said Capt. Norman H. Olson, credited as a founder of the Leap Frogs. Captain Olson, who is retired, was saddened on Sunday to hear about the death.
“There are innate challenges with parachutes, ” he said.
Captain Olson, 86, made his 4,000th parachute jump on his 80th birthday. He said he founded the group in the 1960s, hoping to entertain and educate the public.
“It really kept on going, ” he said. “They do a great job. It’s one of the finest demonstration teams in the world. It started with five of us.”
According to the Leap Frogs website, the group has performed many times this year, starting with the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., in January. The team is scheduled to perform next month at Sail Boston and during Navy Week in Philadelphia.
On Sunday, many people at Liberty State Park initially thought the fall had been part of the demonstration, “to show how they rescue someone from the water, ” said Russell Worrell, 73, a retired post office worker and an Army veteran.
Mr. Worrell said that his eyes had been to the sky as he took pictures but that he then heard the commotion of the crowd around him.
Shortly after 4 p.m., people began learning that the parachutist had died.
Nancy Malinowski, of Cranford, N. J., sat quietly crying while she recollected what she had witnessed.
The man’s parachute descended into the area just north of the pier, where a D. J. played pop music for the event.
“It’s hard to believe it really happened and everyone is sitting here having a good time and the music is still playing, ” Ms. Malinowski said.
There were bouncy castles and empanada trucks and a blowup figure of a giant Marine in fatigues watching over it all. Military vehicles were parked on a lawn for children to explore, and every so often, gray military helicopters took off from a nearby pad and buzzed over the scene.
“It’s so unnecessary, just to entertain people, for someone to have died, ” Ms. Malinowski said. “People came out to support the military, and he dies on Memorial Day weekend.”

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