A tandem jump, an accident, and a bond that will last forever.
August 1, 2014 3:37 PM   Subscribe

There are thousands of things that can go wrong during a sky dive. Usually, Dave Hartsock packed his own parachute. He could just about do it with his eyes shut: straighten the lines, roll the canopy, fold in the outside, press out the excess air, then crease it into a package and carefully place the fabric in the deployment bag.

That was for solo jumps, though. Leading tandem sky dives was different. The canopies were so big, and the pressure so great to move one load of customers after another, that instructors rarely packed their own chutes.

And this Saturday afternoon, Aug. 1, 2009, was crazy as always. For the crew at the Skydive Houston drop zone in Waller County, Texas, it was all they could do to get customers up and back down in time to keep up with demand. Dave had made his first jump at 9 a.m. and five more since. Now, at 4 p.m., he was getting ready to clock out for the day when Todd Bell, the drop-zone manager, approached. Do us a solid, he said. Can you take up one more jumper?

Dave was tired and sweating intensely; the Texas air was still above 100º, even late in the afternoon. But he was game. He took a slug from a bottle of Gatorade, grabbed a pre-packed parachute off the wall peg and turned to his final jumper of the day, a blonde, grandmotherly type. With his broad shoulders and close-cropped brown hair, Dave could be imposing. Which is why, as always, he deployed his best smile upon meeting the customer.

The smile told her that she could relax. That he had this. That everything was going to be O.K.

Video from CBS Evening News.
More, from DailyKos.
posted by ApathyGirl (26 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
There are those who scream when a grenade lands in a foxhole, and those who fall on it. I think I know where Dave Hartsock fell.
posted by pjern at 3:56 PM on August 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

That was a hell of a read.
posted by marxchivist at 4:01 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think I could ever go skydiving. I had a motorcycle accident and it was over in seconds. I can't imagine having that much time to contemplate the inevitable impact.
posted by tommasz at 4:02 PM on August 1, 2014

I think I know where Dave Hartsock fell.
And how.

posted by pracowity at 4:06 PM on August 1, 2014

Great story; thanks for posting.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:17 PM on August 1, 2014

I said I'd never sky dive; and I have - put your fears aside kids and live.

There are heroes in all of us.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 4:50 PM on August 1, 2014

Wow. What a story!
posted by apricot at 5:02 PM on August 1, 2014

A $100 donation will incur a $8.40 transaction fee. Sigh.
posted by nostrada at 5:14 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Dr Pepper bottling plant where this guy used to work is a block from the area where I live. Damn strange to be reading an article, caught up in the narrative and trying to see where things are going to go wrong, and stumble on a detail like that. An interesting story, to be sure, and it really is delightful that Shirley and Dave have managed to make a friendship out of their tragedy.
posted by librarylis at 5:14 PM on August 1, 2014

Amazing story and genuine hero. He took care of a stranger who had entrusted herself to his care. What a great human.
posted by arcticseal at 6:24 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I guess I'm going to have to actually start keeping a list of the people I want to buy a drink so I can add Dave Hartsock's name to it.

This made me think about the dozens of stories like Hartsock's I see every year, surely standing in for hundreds or thousands more.

It made me think about my "uncle's" father, James Mester, who won the Joseph A. Holmes Medal of Honor in 1960. He jumped into a vat of burning hot water to save his coworker from drowning at the U.S. Metals Refining plant in Carteret, New Jersey.

It made me think about the citations for the Carnegie Medal, which will bring a tear to your eye if you're like me and get choked up when you read about regular people just doing what comes naturally in dangerous situations.

I'm comforted that I live in a world where strangers will go above and beyond for each other.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:41 PM on August 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

Whatever I can think of to say is probably not enough. My highest compliment is that he is a truly good man and a hero.

Last month, my daughter called me from college to tell me she was about to try skydiving and that she loved me. It all turned out well, but I can tell you that that was the longest 45 minutes of my life.

God bless Shirley too.
posted by 724A at 7:17 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up as a DZ rat, basically since before I could walk. Both my parents were military skydivers, then civilian riggers and jumpers. I've known a guy who died after a main-reserve entanglement (the thing Dave was afraid of when he couldn't cut away his unusable main, although I find downplanes more terrifying than entanglements); I've also known a guy who "bounced" (... yep, skydivers do say that, or used to 20+ years ago) and lived.

My dad still does the rigging for a relatively small DZ, and at one point he had so many "saves" that he had to make people stop buying him alcohol to thank him because he couldn't go through it fast enough. Reserve canopies have to be packed by a certified rigger; pretty much any shmuck is allowed to pack a main -- I know because I was occasionally making $5 a pack job for a while when I was maybe 13. (As far as I know I never packed anyone an unflyable canopy.) The people packing the tandem rigs (a) make more than that and (b) are more carefully monitored most of the time, at most DZs.

I mention this to give context to the fact that I am blown away that Dave made it to 800+ jumps without a single cutaway -- that is an incredible run of luck and makes it even more impressive that he kept his head in this situation. I feel like most people, by the time they get a couple hundred jumps in, have had at least one lineover or bag lock, or line twists so bad they couldn't clear them and had to cut away. Bag lock used to be the one I heard about most often; not a huge deal generally, but very annoying, because it's much harder to find and retrieve the cut-away main if it's still in its bag when it falls into the local farmer's cornfield.

A few things in the story confused me; I've never seen a system with two cutaway handles, for instance. Usually it's the cutaway handle on one side of the harness and the reserve ripcord on the other. Also, this is just me being out of touch with the sport, but I was initially surprised he had enough jumps to be a tandem instructor in the first place, but I looked it up and the cutoff appears to be possession of a D rating, which you can get as early as 500 jumps.

Every tandem instructor I know has crazy stories, and every one has dealt with numerous malfunctions (usually over thousands of jumps), but not generally on this scale. Dave is a mensch.
posted by dorque at 7:28 PM on August 1, 2014 [20 favorites]

Also, if it makes anyone feel better, the USPA keeps accident statistics. I don't believe DZ owners are required to report non-fatal accidents (they'd be deluged with minor canopy incidents and broken ankles), but fatalities are extremely, mind-bogglingly rare. Last year, they recorded only two dozen fatalities in an estimated 3.2 million jumps.
posted by dorque at 7:31 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good article.

We had a line over on my third jump (second tandem), and I was proud of how calm I was while strapped to the jumpmaster as he carefully and deliberately sorted it out while we spun around madly. I was actually glad it happened so that if it were to ever happen again when I was alone it wouldn't be panic-inducing. I jumped a couple more times that year, with every intention of getting licensed as soon as possible so I could just do it all the time... but to get licensed you can't let much time lapse between jumps and I lost some ground due to life happening all up in my face. So I eased off for a bit...

Then that plane crashed, killing my jumpmaster and a lot of other wonderful people I'd met. The other jumpasters I'd jumped with. The guy who'd done my videos. Most of the people I'd met from the drop zone.

It felt especially tragic that just about everyone on board had a parachute, but the plane never made it high enough for it to matter.

A common question is "Why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?"

The correct answer is "There's no such thing as a perfectly good airplane."

I'd definitely still do it, but I have kids now and they use up all my disposable income. Maybe one day...
posted by hypersloth at 9:30 PM on August 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

I looked it up and the cutoff appears to be possession of a D rating, which you can get as early as 500 jumps

As early as?

That's 500 times you're flying in a prop-driven aircraft, burning leaded gasoline, just to meet a certification that's barely sufficient to roughly guarantee an acceptable margin of safety to tourists?

I'd always thought skydiving sounded cool. The story relayed in the FPP is cool. But if that's a minimum lower bound of its environmental impact, just give me a ball-peen hammer and let me beat the shit out of a coral reef instead.
posted by 7segment at 12:52 AM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

But if that's a minimum lower bound of its environmental impact, just give me a ball-peen hammer and let me beat the shit out of a coral reef instead.

Oh, so you prefer snorkeling?
posted by hypersloth at 2:15 AM on August 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Awesome story. You know they lived because the reporter can tell you what they were thinking. But you also knew it wasn't going to easy.

FYI, you don't have to pay the transaction fee if you mail a check. There's every reason to think that the internet could do its magical money drop on Dave if we put our minds to it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:15 AM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read this story last night via Longform, which included it as part of a curated list of amazing survival stories. Equally memorable, but for different reasons, is "The Man Who Sailed His House", a story of a man who survived the Japanese tsunami after being swept out to sea on the roof of his house.

Or really just read through all of the stories on that longform list. I have finished four of them and they have all been by turns beautiful, haunting, and humbling.
posted by bl1nk at 5:52 AM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Dude lived? My mobile browser crashed at the same time they did. She had just comprehended that he'd put himself under her. From the description, I thought he'd died to save her. Did he live?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:07 AM on August 2, 2014

You know they lived because the reporter can tell you what they were thinking.

Not necessarily. I was flip-flopping between that possibility and "creative reconstruction of what may well have been going through his mind, based on what happened and on talking to those who knew him and were involved in the anecdotes given."
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:54 AM on August 2, 2014

Did he live?

He lived, with serious injuries and quadriplegia.
posted by KathrynT at 9:47 AM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dude lived? My mobile browser crashed at the same time they did. She had just comprehended that he'd put himself under her. From the description, I thought he'd died to save her. Did he live?

He's in a motorized wheelchair for life, but, yes, he lived.
posted by 256 at 9:48 AM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

ob1quixote: "It made me think about the citations for the Carnegie Medal, which will bring a tear to your eye if you're like me and get choked up when you read about regular people just doing what comes naturally in dangerous situations."
I was just looking through the list and fell over this:
Charles T. Carbonell, Sr., saved Denise C. Guzman from burning, Lakeland, Florida, November 14, 2011. [...] (Note: Mr. Carbonell was awarded his first Carnegie Medal in 2007, in recognition of his rescuing a Tampa, Fla., police officer who was under assault by the man he was attempting to arrest.)
Give that man a medal. Oh, wait.
posted by brokkr at 1:00 PM on August 2, 2014

I'm only sorry that nominations for the Carnegie Medal can be made for up to two years post-incident. Otherwise, I'd write him up.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:01 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

His mother just sent this message to donors:
~ Hi Everyone, I want to thank each & everyone of you who have donated to Davids fund. Just wish I could thank you in person. We have been overwhelmed by the response & are so far behind in our response but given time we will write a personal note to each & everyone we can. David does it on his voice activated computer and I am learning to use my son-in-laws laptop so have patience with us and we will get to everyone. I want to make sure you all know every bit of the donations will go to only Davids care.It has been my strongest desire to keep him at home and over see his care. He requires 24/7 care and I doubt he could get that in a nursing home as they don't have the manpower to provide that. Not that they would not like to be able to do that.

We have six helpers and feel very blessed to have them.Why so many you might ask? Well becuse some work days, some work nights, some work weekends and some can work all shifts. Yes there have been a few times when no one has been available and I have done their shift.Sure makes for a very long day.Good thing I am a fairly healthy old lady.Some have told me they hope when they get to be my age they can do all that I do and I tell them I pray to God they don't have to. I am very blessed that I can do it.

David makes the job fairly easy because of his attitude and positive thinking.WhenMr. Steve Hartman did the interview he told us when he was told the story they wanted him to do he wasn't to happy about doing it because it sounded like such a sad story. But within a very few minutes of the interview he and everyone was laughing and everyone was much more relaxed. He asked David how he felt about the fact that Shirley was able to walk away from the accident and he was paralized? David's response was that was his goal to get her down as safely as he could and hopefully their injuries wouldn't be life threatening. Then he said, "S--t happens". Mr.Hartmans reply after a good laugh was "Well I can tell you for a fact that remark will not go out over the air". He told us after the interview he was so glad to have had the chance to do the story.
We were very surprised that S.I. wanted to do a story on David and Shirley and we were extremely grateful. We are so very proud of the way Mr.Chris Ballard wrote the story and was glad it appeared on the 5th anniversery of the accident.Our sincere thanks to all who had a part of getting all the info together. David has heard from people all over the world and the messages of caring, hope and prayers will be with us for a very long time and will get us through any rough times.

I want to especially thank Shirley for the courage it took her to stay calm and listen to David so he could go through all the necessary steps they practice in case of a problem.I can only imagine how scared she was but to my way of thinking she too is a hero as her actions or lack there of helped to save not only her life but my precious sons as well and for that I will be forever grateful and love her very much.

In the two years we had to prepare for the passing of my late husband from Acute Lukhemia (AML) he taught us so much about life and how to die with dignity.We still hear his words so often and try to live the life he wanted for us. He told us to live every day as tho it was our last because no one is guarenteed a tomorrow and do something nice for some one every day as there will be people there to help us if needed. He was oh so right. He would be so very grateful to all of you for the help you have given us. My hope and prayer is I live to seeDavid regain the use of his whole body again and help any one who needs help the way you all have helped us. The timeing of the S.I. article was heaven sent as the money from the sell of my home in AZ.and my husbands insurance money was really going low and I was getting very scared and concerned. How do I find the words to thank youall for the help you have given us. I thank God everyday for any and all help I get. It hasn't been an easy job but then I know we are truly blessed to have David still with us and even tho he is paralized he helps me in so many ways. Not a day goes by that he doesn't thank me for what I am doing for him. I thank God I have the strength to do it because I know through Christ all things are possible and I am not on this journey alone.

This coming Monday David will start a new(to us)program at Memorial Hermann TIRR where his spinal cord Drs are, for Nerve Pain . Their goal is to try and find a way to be rid of it or to atleast ease it. Seems all Quads have it and it can sometimes be really bad. We do exercises daily on him to keep his muscles working so they don','t freeze up and he becomes disfigured.He will do this two times a week for now and see how it goes and if it will help.He can move two fingers on each hand and each big toes but has no strength in them.He does seem to have feelings in parts of his body. We have physical theropy at the house two times a week and right now we have to have his primary Dr request more from the insurance co.and so far they have been good to him.I am amazed at the progress he is making and his Drs feel the same way. He has the will and the desire to get back as much as he can . He says he will go skydiving again and for his sake I hope he will BUT not in my life time HAHA Awful arn't I

I have to laugh now as when he was finally able to speak to us he kept asking us to scratch here and there. Finally one day I told him he must have bugs on himself as I never saw anyone with so much itching. Then one day I was scrarching myself and I thought oh how I wish I had never said that to him as it is amazing the things we all take so for granted. Such simple little things we do every day and think nothing of it.

David has spent a lot of time on the computer lately thanking as many as he can on his voice activated computer and I have tried to help him on my son-in-laws old computer. I am really not very good at it but I make an attempt to help him thank one every personally and with the help of Kristy and Kate it has helped us to try and catch it so if you all will have patience with us David and I will thank you personally. Again we thank you all so very much for the financial help and for the so very nice words of encouragement,your thoughts and prayers for us.We will be forever grateful and will do what ever we can to be there for others as you have been here for us.May god bless each of you and your loved ones.

As skydivers always say Blue Skies
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:37 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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