Friends of a man who died after skydiving in Clewiston are coming forward to clarify what may have resulted in the man’s death.
Rick Hornsby, the owner of Skydive Spaceland Florida, a skydiving business based out of Airglades Airport in Clewiston, said his family is still reeling from the loss of the skydiving veteran.
John Matthew Rodriguez, 47, of Sunrise, had been a dedicated skydiver, routinely visiting the Clewiston area to jump over the last 15 years. His sudden death over the weekend stunned his friends and family.
“He was extremely close to us,” said Mr. Hornsby. “He’ll be greatly missed.”
Mr. Hornsby explained that John’s equipment did not fail, that an emergency system fully deployed while he was falling through the air, and that a video of the incident clearly shows that the man went limp long before he landed.
The incident happened on Saturday, April 23, at 9:35 a.m. That is when John joined 11 other skydivers for a group skydive.
“While performing the skydive, the individual clearly experienced some type of medical emergency while in freefall,” explained Mr. Hornsby. “The video depicts the individual engaged in some type of emergency medical situation an an altitude of around 8,000 feet. The subject clearly dropped his right shoulder, dropped his legs in a limp fashion, which caused him to tumble [in the air].”
Mr. Hornsby said he watched as John was spinning in the air while the rest of the jumpers had deployed their parachutes. When the man reached an altitude of about 1,000 feet his reserve parachute deployed fully.
“I noticed at that point in time that the subject was hanging unresponsively in the harness,” said Mr. Hornsby. “He never reached up to take control of the toggles.”
Staff at Skydive Spaceland jumped in a truck to follow the man as he made his way to the ground. Because he was not in control of the parachute, he landed away from the landing area and into a cane field.
The crew found the man unresponsive and without a pulse. Mr. Hornsby and two other people performed CPR while they waited for emergency personnel to arrive.
In posts on Facebook, family and friends recalled John Rodriguez with terms like “Blue Skies” and photos of the man skydiving over the years.
“Skydivers use the term [to describe] a great day for us,” said Mr. Hornsby. “You look out for blue skies and you say for example, ‘I should be jumping out of an airplane instead of sitting in this office.’”
According to Mr. Hornsby, John leaves behind a wife and twin 14-year-old daughters. A Federal Aviation Administration employee, John performed well over 500 skydives in his life.
In a candid moment following the death, one of John’s daughters spoke with Rick, and sought solace in the fact that her father died doing what he loved, not because of it.
A funeral for John will be held at Forest Lawn Funeral Home, 2401 Southwest 64th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, on Sunday, May 1, with visitation from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and a funeral at 3 p.m.