A safety expert for a national skydiving association says a "mini tornado" caused the accident that killed a correction officer and injured his instructor during a tandem jump.
Gary Messina died in the accident at Skydive Long Island in Calverton Wednesday afternoon, a day before his 26th birthday. His instructor, Christopher Scott, was critically injured.
Rich Winstock tells Newsday wind and dust churned into a funnel and made it impossible to control the parachute. Winstock is director of the United States Parachute Association and chairs its safety and training committee.
This was the first tandem-jump death for Skydive Long Island since it opened in 1986, the company said.
"We are deeply sorrowed by this tragic accident," read a statement released by Skydive Long Island Friday, adding that it "maintains one of the safest skydiving records in the United States."
The FAA is investigating. It had no information Thursday about the accident's cause.
The National Weather Service said winds were in the 5- to 15-mph range at the time of the jump.
Messina's younger brother, Anthony Messina, told NBC 4 New York Thursday his brother was "the best person you could ever know." He said he worked hard at his job and "did everything" for his little boy, Jake.
Neighbor Ron Scarpati said he's known Gary Messina since he was born. He called the correction officer a "great kid" and said he felt horrible for the man's son.
"It was something to watch those two together," Scarpati said. "I don't know what's going to happen now with that little boy."