Note: This story first appeared in the Des Plaines Valley News
Editor's note: Reporter Alison Moran was at the Gary Airport on Saturday at the invitation of the Army to fly with the Golden Knights parachute team when Sgt. Corey Hood was involved in a mid-air collision that would take his life. Here is her story.
"Tell her the jump's not gonna happen," I heard the voice of the pilot navigating theArmy's Golden Knights parachute teamover the walkie-talkie at the Gary Jet Center on Saturday.Just an hour or so before, the Golden Knight's precision skydiving team had taken off from the same airstrip, to dazzle and entertain an estimated 1 million people gathered at Chicago's lakefront for the 57th annual Air & Water Show.
I had been scheduled to fly with the prestigious Golden Knights' Black Demonstration Division, and interview the parachutists, who annually make more than 27,000 jumps with a team of 427 national champions. Many were from the Midwest, and I was eager to find out what motivated them to do such dangerous work on behalf of their nation.
"These guys are like my brothers," said Sgt. First Class Shelby Bixler, of Michigan, one of the few female parachutists in the Golden Knights, in an interview prior to Saturday's jump. "We back each other up, support each other. We know it's dangerous, but important work."
"Skydiving is a dangerous sport," Donna Dixon, the Parachute Team Public Affairs Officer, told me by email. "But the team goes through extensive training to be prepared for malfunctions."
And now ...
"Why?" I asked.
"The reporter would like an explanation," repeated Colleen Goldstein into the walkie-talkie, who was communicating with the pilot as part of the Air & Water Show team.
A pause. "No reason," he said.
A few minutes later, as the situation unfolded, we were in the midst of a tragedy.We learned all jumps were cancelled that day, as the team implemented a safety stand down.
Ilearned one of the Army jumpers, who was a decorated, respected veteran, had collided in mid-air with a member of the Navy's parachute team, the Leap Frogs, while performing a maneuver.
The Leap Frog, identified as Tim Holland, had broken one of his legs but managed to still land on North Avenue Beach, but the Golden Knight was undergoing brain surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Dixon told me the entire Black Demonstration Division visited him at the hospital. The commander and team leader, she said, stayed at the hospital to support the soldier's family.
Overnight, things appeared promising. According to Dixon, he remained stable through the night but was still in critical condition. And we learned his name: Sgt. First Class Corey Hood, 32. The native of Cincinnati, Ohio, was a 14-year Army veteran and had served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Hood's condition worsened. On Sunday, just after 7 p.m., Dixon sent word of Sgt. Hood's passing. Survivors include his wife, Lyndsay.
"Our focus right now is on supporting Corey's family and grieving for our teammate." said Lt. Col. Matthew Weinrich, team commander, in a statement. "As soldiers, there are risks every day in what we do, but you do everything you can to minimize those risks and it is extremely hard when that is not enough.
"The Knights are a very close knit team and the military skydiving community is equally close; we will support Corey's family and each other during this difficult time."
In the aftermath, counseling is being offered to the Golden Knights, and an investigation into the accident is ongoing. The safety stand down may impact the team's performance schedule.
The Golden Knights are an important connection between the Army and the American people," said Mark S. Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for marketing. "Corey's loss is a loss for the Army team and every single person he has touched and inspired wherever and whenever he jumped."