Albuquerque man dies in skydiving accident at Belen area dropzone

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A 36-year-old Albuquerque man lost his life Saturday doing what he loved — skydiving.

Damon Mhoon died while attempting to land at the Skydive New Mexico dropzone in Belen.

"We're deeply saddened by this loss of a longtime member and good friend," said Allen Welch, safety and training advisor for Skydive New Mexico. "The jumper was an expert skydiver with more than 600 skydives. It appears after opening his parachute, he flew to the landing area, but landed in a turn. The FAA is investigating.

"Our hearts are with his family during this tough time," he said.

Belen police Sgt. Gerald Espinoza said he was dispatched to the scene, located near the Belen Municipal Alexander Airport at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday. When he arrived, he was directed toward the landing zone.

"When I got there, there was an individual on his back with the parachute off to the side, Espinoza said. "The paramedics were right behind me. I checked for pulse and breathing. I was advised by (Emily Cano, a fellow skydiver) that she had been (giving him CPR) for eight minutes, without a response."

The sergeant said medics started lifesaving measures immediately, and worked to try to resuscitate Mhoon for about 30 minutes before he was pronounced dead.

"What I understood was he was performing an aggressive landing maneuver, which he had done a number of times, and he turned in too low of an altitude," Espinoza said.

The sergeant couldn't comment on what injuries Mhoon sustained, only saying an autopsy by the Office of the Medical Investigator would determine the cause and manner of death.

He also said there were three other people who had parachuted out of the same plane with Mhoon, landing safely and without incident.

"Everyone was very somber, very upset," Espinoza said of the other skydivers at the dropzone that day. "They were pretty much distraught."

Josh Romero has known Mhoon for more than 16 years, since they both started skydiving at age 21. Romero was at the airport that day, but didn't witness the accident.

"At first, we didn't know what had happened, only that he was hurt," Romero said. "When I was trying to take his stuff out to him, I was told he had passed. I went back to the hanger and had to let people know he had passed away. We were all upset."

Nicknamed "Sideshow Bob" for his big hair back in the day, Mhoon and Romero watched each other grow up, learning from one another, going through the same trials and errors.

"He was definitely the more dominate one," he said of his friend. "When you have friends in skydiving, we tend to compete with one another. We try and outdo each other. I have to say, he was the braver one, the smarter one, the one who took more risks."

Romero, who has more that 1,000 skydives under his belt, said when a new technique or a new type of canopy came out, Mhoon was the first one to try it out. While Mhoon was a daredevil, Romero said safety was his No. 1 priority, making sure he was well trained and had the proper equipment.

But what his friend remembers most was that Mhoon was an optimist, someone who always saw the good in people.

"One of the things about him, I never heard him once talking bad about anyone," Romero said. "He was always optimistic. He took criticism in such a way to try to learn from it.

"He wasn't a person who would hold back — a very positive thing about him. He would push the limits, but he was always safe."

Romero said Mhoon had recently been helping younger skydivers, trying to teach them more advanced maneuvers. Both Romero and Mhoon would work with people after they got their license.

"In spite of what we do, we have to look at it with somewhat of a blind eye," Romero said of using his friend's death as somewhat of a learning experience. "Damon turned too low. Now, we have to analyze it and learn from it.

"In skydiving, you could do everything right, and everything could still go wrong. I wasn't there, I didn't see what happened. But we try not to harp on the bad, but try and learn from it."


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.