Skydiving accident kills visitor, instructor

Hawaii’s tight-knit skydiving community is mourning the death of a veteran instructor and his young student on Sunday. Tandem parachute instructor Greg Hunter, 44, and 18-year-old Margaret Jean Thomas of Papillion, Neb. were killed after falling 9,000 feet into a back yard on the North Shore.

A longtime skydiver, Hunter was also a commercial diver, boat captain, and scuba instructor. Thomas and her infant son were visiting her brother, who is stationed with the Army here. Thomas had received the skydiving jump as a gift, and Honolulu police say she had listed skydiving as one of her lifelong dreams.

Thomas and Hunter were one of several pairs of tandem parachutists who jumped out of a Cessna 402 owned by Drop Zone, one of three skydiving companies operating out of Dillingham Air Field. Hunter’s coworkers were unaware anything was wrong until the plane had landed. The pair crashed into the back yard of Fred Chuckovich, who lives on Mahinaai Street in Mokuleia.

While an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration is ongoing, the reserve parachute was reportedly out of the parachute pack but had not opened when the bodies were found. Skydiving enthusiasts have said the reserve parachute may have opened early or accidentally and gotten tangled with the main parachute, and a spokesman for the United States Parachute Association confirmed that something was out of sequence.

The reserve or backup parachute usually has a built-in mechanism to deploy automatically, depending on speed, altitude or air pressure. The deaths are the first ever since recreational skydiving took root in the islands nearly two decades ago.

The other two companies operating alongside Drop Zone are Sky Dive Hawaii and the Pacific Skydiving Center. Hunter was well-known and respected in the skydiving community, and friends soon plan to celebrate his life by scattering his ashes during a freefall jump at sunset.

According to Hunter’s online resume, he built, flew, and crashed his first hanglider at Mt. Alyska in Girdwood, Alaska, in 1972. He and his family moved to Hawaii in 1973, and he worked several jobs on Maui, traveling to several cities on the Mainland for outdoor activities training and returning to Alaska often over the next several years. In 1989, he started working as a tandem parachute instructor at Perris Valley Skydiving Center in California. Soon after, he designed and sold a custom skydiving helmet that housed a video camera and that has since become popular throughout the industry.

He moved the company, Head Hunter Helmets, to Hawaii two years ago. He resumed skydiving instruction this year, while working to develop yet another business, a JetSub submersible SCUBA boat.

“We do know that he pulled all of his handles, all but one drogue release, so he died doing everything he knew to save his student,” wrote Rob Warner, a former colleague of Hunter. “Greg went with honor.”

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  1. Maggie was a good friend of mine. All the moms at College of Saint Mary’s in Omaha, NE miss her dearly. We as if we lost a sister. It will never be the same up here without seeing her face and hearing her voice. Please pray for the moms and Maggie’s family as we try to get through this hard time. We will be praying for Gregg’s family as well.

  2. Greg and Margaret were doing what they loved to do.I honor them for this.I’m planning to take an AFF course next spring in Orange,MA.This tragedy does not make me feel that skydiving is something that I should stop dreaming for.My thoughts and prayers are going to both families for they are resting in peace in heaven.

  3. An unfortunate accident, but even though I was terrified after reading this news, it didn’t stop me. Joe, Stephan, and Art Tugie at Drop Zone are the best in the business. They gave me a once-in-a-liftetime experience, I’ll never forget.

  4. Thats crazy. I’m really sorry to hear about what happened, but that shouldn’t stop anyone who wants to still go skydiving. I’m only 17 and going in the summer time.

  5. i never got to meet maggie but i talked to her several times on the phone while i was pregnant with my now 4 year old son. maggie is his aunt her brother brandons son she was eager to have a little nephew i know that her and i will meet some day along with ethan and kaden

  6. maggie was 1 of my closest friends through elementry and jr high school we had alot of memories and i miss u dearly honey R.I.P n happi 27th birthday

  7. I was there that day taking an AFF skydiving class with Greg Hunter when he asked me to read a section in the skydiving book and prepare to discuss it later after he returned from his tandem jump with Maggie. That is a day I will never forget. It really shook everyone up. I felt so sad for her brother who was just trying to give her the skydiving gift that she had always wanted to do.