Is this America’s deadliest skydiving center? Haunting video reveals teen’s final moments at California center where 28 people have plummeted to their deaths – and it’s STILL open

Photo of author
Written By Maya Cantina
  • California’s Lodi Parachute Center north of Stockton still owes $40 million awarded to the parents of Tyler Turner, 18, who plunged to his death in 2016
  • It is thought to have the worst safety record in the US with 28 deaths in the last 40 years
  • But no-one knows for sure in an industry where deaths are not officially counted where regulation is minimal

‘Life goes on’ according to the boss of what is reputed to be America’s most dangerous skydiving center.

Over the past 40 years, 28 people who signed up to skydive from California’s Lodi Parachute Center have plummeted to their deaths – including 18-year-old Tyler Turner, SFGate reported. 

The teen’s adventure ended in tragedy in 2016 when his parachute failed to open just minutes after telling his mother he loved her in a haunting final video. It later emerged his tandem instructor was unlicensed.

But while a $40 million judgement was awarded to the family of Turner in 2021, eight years on not a cent has been paid and jumps continue at the center.  

The center’s owner, Bill Dause, told DailyMail.com that neither Tyler’s death nor any of the others were his fault – insisting such incidents are ‘just part of the activity’.

The Lodi Parachute Center north of Stockton California has suffered 28 fatalities in 30 years

Owner Bill Dause has insisted he has no intention of stopping the flights despite the deaths

Owner Bill Dause has insisted he has no intention of stopping the flights despite the deaths

A sign direct drivers on California's Highway 99 to the skydiving company's premises

A sign direct drivers on California’s Highway 99 to the skydiving company’s premises

Tyler had joined two friends to celebrate their high school graduation before they started college together at UC Merced.

The high-schooler prayed on the tarmac and told his mother he loved her for the last time before taking off. 

‘That’s my mom over there,’ Tyler said in his final video message.

‘Very loving mom. Done a lot for me in my life. Hope more that she’ll help me with more of my life, ’cause I want to make it.’

Moments later he lay dead in a vineyard next to his tandem instructor and their unopened chute as the next flight prepared to take-off.  

Tyler’s mom Francine Salazar arrived in time to see the coroner’s van take her son’s body away, before she returned to the center where another excited customer was strapping on his parachute.

‘I said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it’,’ she told SFGate, ‘You’re going to leave your wife and your kids with no dad.’

She said she shouted at owner Bill Dause, and screamed: ‘What are you doing? Don’t you realize someone just died?’

Twenty-four people had already died at the center north of Stockton by the time Tyler fell to his death.

The youngest was 15-year-old Devon Whittaker whose parachute failed in April 1993 as he jumped alongside his mother.

In 2019 a flight ignored warnings of high winds to set off carrying Maria Vallejo, 28, who was blown over Highway 99 before crash landing on the roof of a truck.

Three years ago local woman Sabrina Call died after her primary and emergency parachutes tangled in mid-air.

But Dause said ‘none of the incidents’ were related and that customers who perished were ‘doing their own thing’, despite the judgment against him and other fines issues against the business.

‘[As for] why we don’t shut it down, have you gone to a football game and see someone hurt hauled off in an ambulance? They don’t close the stadium and send everybody home and go out of business,’ he told DailyMail.com.

‘It’s just part of the sport, part of the activity. It’s whether it’s an acceptable risk is something that an individual has to make up their mind about that.

‘Have we changed anything? No, not really. Because there’s nothing we can change when all the incidents were different.’

In 2019 a flight ignored warnings of high winds to set off carrying Maria Vallejo, 28, who was blown over Highway 99 before crash landing on the roof of a truck

In 2019 a flight ignored warnings of high winds to set off carrying Maria Vallejo, 28, who was blown over Highway 99 before crash landing on the roof of a truck

Francine Salazar, pictured with son Tyler, said 'Before he got on the plane, he knelt down and prayed, made his peace with God, and then turned around and gave me a great big, huge hug'

Francine Salazar, pictured with son Tyler, said ‘Before he got on the plane, he knelt down and prayed, made his peace with God, and then turned around and gave me a great big, huge hug’

‘We’re sad, but it’s just like a car wreck or anything else,’ Dause previously told reporters, ‘You have to go on.’

There are no official figures recording how many people die in parachute accidents because no agency requires them to be reported.

Jim Crouch of the United States Parachute Association (USPA) told the SacBee he could not ‘recall any other large and busy skydiving center with that many fatalities since 1985’.

And while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigates fatal parachute accidents it limits itself to checking that the minimal regulatory requirements have been satisfied and ‘does not investigate to determine the cause’.

The FAA issued fines totaling $933,000 against Dause and his business in 2010 and 2011 for regulatory failures but these were not paid.

Tyler’s instructor, Yong Kwon, 25 had recently arrived from South Korea and had not been trained or certified to carry out tandem jumps in the US.

In 2016 USPA kicked Dause and his company off its register after finding that 12 instructors trained there had bogus certificates.

But skydiving companies do not need to be registered with USPA and deaths continued to pile up.

An analysis by The Bee found that 10 were caused by equipment issues, eight involved parachutes becoming entangled with those of other jumpers, and three involved midair collisions with other skydivers.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it does not have the authority to order the closure of a skydiving school but told SFGate: ‘The FAA has oversight responsibilities and the authority to end operations in the interest of safety.’

But the FAA said that is not true because skydiving companies themselves do not require certification.

The lack of oversight is made explicit by UPSA which states on its website: ‘The FAA and USPA rely on self-regulation from within the skydiving community for most training and operational requirements.

‘USPA has no obligation to anyone concerning his or her skydiving activities,’ its information manual warns.

‘All references by USPA to self-regulation refer to each individual person regulating or being responsible for him or herself.’

Tyler’s mother said her son planned to attend UC Merced in the fall to study biochemical engineering because he was born with cerebral palsy and wanted to help others with the condition. 

‘Before he got on the plane, he knelt down and prayed, made his peace with God, and then turned around and gave me a great big, huge hug,’ she added. 

‘He had integrity like nobody else,’ she said. ‘Live your life like he would have. He was an incredible boy.’ 

Dause, now 81, continues to fly from the center and has said he has no idea how many people have jumped from his planes.

He said Tyler’s death was an accident and that closing the center in the aftermath would have harmed the business. He also accused Tyler’s mother of ‘contacting every news source’ about the tragedy and said she was ‘stirring the pot because she thinks I could bring someone back or it was my fault and this wasn’t done right’.

Dause also previously defended his decision to keep flying after Tyler’s death telling reporters: ‘We didn’t stop because life goes on. There isn’t anything I could have done different that would have changed the outcome.

‘Yes, I could have not opened up this place. I could have stayed home. I could still be on the farm in Utah.’

During the lawsuit against Tyler’s parents he suggested that only his own death would stop the flights. Asked what it would take he said: ‘Well, other than the sun going down, that would be the stop.’

Dause claimed he only lost the lawsuit because he couldn’t afford an attorney.

The news reports about the number of deaths at his center have also taken its toll on the business, he said.

‘COVID-19, that really slowed us down. But since that point, all this bad press is still making news. We used to get a lot of people from England, a lot of people from Europe would come over, but we’re still getting a lot of bad press for something that the center had nothing to do with other than it happened here.’

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

Leave a Comment

ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT