Sheriff's deputies talk with Bill Dause on Aug. 6, 2016 after two skydivers plummeted to their deaths. One was 18 and jumping for the first time.
Whenever I write about Skydive Lodi Paracute Center, I get a raft of angry replies from skydivers. They denounce me as unprofessional and slanderous (they mean libelous, but I get the point). They rarely address or rebut any facts.
You can see the latest fullisade in the comment boxes below the column.
The comment by Kyle Tan takes the cake.
“… the author uses the colloquial moniker “Uncle Sam” when referring to the FAA several times throughout his slander. The conscious choice to use this informal name in a piece of professional writing, especially when referencing a specific organization within the federal government and not the government as a whole is an obvious and elementary use of rhetoric aimed at eliciting the feelings of frustration with the government held by some of the publication’s readers in hopes of turning them against the Lodi Parachute Center.”
Really? That’s my strategy, huh? I use “Uncle Sam” — I shouldn’t have to explain this — as an easily readable substitute for some dry, longer phrase such as “Federal Aviation Administration officials.”
It’s responses such as this that makes me wonder if I’m dealing with a bunch of thrill seekers whose adrenalin has boiled their cerebral cortexes to bacon bits.
But I also receive insightful letters. Here are a few.
Derek Hudson writes:
“I have been working in the skydiving industry for nearly a decade and a dozen different drop zone operators all over the US and I have to say Lodi has some of the best maintained aircraft and skydiving gear I have seen.
“The FAA isn’t very good at regulating things they don’t know well. Legally you’re required to maintain all multi engine turbine aircraft in accordance with an FAA approved company maintenance program or the factory maintenance program.
“When companies like Beechcraft designed their aircraft they anticipated corporate travelers taking off, flying for three hours and landing. Their maintenance program is designed to take care of the engines starting and shutting down once, the landing gear swing up and down once, the aircraft taking off and landing once, in three hours of flight time.
“That same aircraft used for skydiving will do approximately 12 times the landings in the same amount of flight time. Jump planes need more maintenance than the factory or the FAA understands.
“Places like Lodi know what matters when it comes to keeping people safe in skydiving. All the skydiving gear is bought new and rotated out as to never have aging equipment. the aircraft maintenance was the best I’ve seen. Per amount of jumps being made it has a safety record on par with most drop zones. All activities in life have their risk. The FAA’s safety rating with general aviation isn’t stellar and having them regulate could cause some problems as they know little of the activity.”
“To the extent Hudson is right, one wonders why Dause has not explained all this. Instead he has been hostile and evasive to the press from Day 1. He would not tell me, for instance, his age, his jump rate, and other basic and non-controversial facts. Half the time he slams the phone down on reporters. When you are agrumentative and unresponsive in court, they declare you a hostile witness and bear down on you. It is the same with the press.
Where I split with Hudson is where he goes from a good understanding of planes to saying the FAA should not regulate drop zones. If it should not, who should?
“Your article about Bill Dause and the Parachute center is absolutely RIGHT ON Target!
“You do not need to be discouraged by the “disciples of Lodi”. Bill Dause is the bane of our sport and the industry.
“And you only know a small portion of what he is and has been responsible for over the last 40 years. Airplane crashes due to lack of maintenance and or training, both in the US and Canada. And countless fatalities.
“The Lodi Parachute Center is a black hole, where some people get sucked in a can’t seem to find their way out. Some are good people whom seem to get lost. A number of us in the industry have been complaining for years, decades about Dause and his operation. It falls mostly on deaf ears.
“While I am all for exposing Bill Dause and the Parachute center for what it is, I fear legislation will have a detrimental effect on the Sport and industry. Most DZ’s in this country operate safely and responsibly. The real people that are complicit are the FAA and people that know better who choose to wear blinders and continue to support Dause. The FAA have the power to shut him down completely, if they would just do their job.
FAA DPRE, USPA S&TA, Tandem I & Course director, AFF I
Commercial Pilot & Check Airman.
John Kindseth writes:
“Has anyone from the airplane company or the FAA confirmed the pilot’s claim of mechanical failure ? I was talking with my son when the information came out about the crash and he was quite skeptical. He is a 14 year pilot for the Air Force [as well as now a part-time pilot for Southwest] and has flown hundreds of missions in STOL recovery and extraction. His log book shows around 2 thousand hours.
“Most of those planes used the same or very similar engine turboprop as that center’s Caravan, which, new, is a 1.75 million dollar plane. He said those engines are virtually bulletproof–if they have fuel, they run. He said the main problem in situations like this drop center is that the pilot is under pressure to minimize the fuel carried to shorten the planes take-off and climb time hence you save money and flight time, and can re-cycle the jumpers faster and get in more paying jumps in a day. His belief [and the shop talk] is that the pilot cut that run too close and should have re-fueled, then ran out and had to ditch.
“We live on the north end of Lodi and have gone to Lodi airport a number of times either to let the grandkids watch the jumpers or to take a private flight. When the jump plane stops to pick up new passengers, it is a mad scramble for jumpers to get in and take off as fast as possible. Those are also the re-fueling stops where just enough fuel is taken on for another flight or two. [I do not know the policy or rules on that process, but it never involves filling up, since that is much too heavy as described above.]”
To the extent Dause’s supporters are right, one wonders why Dause has not explained to the press any of the points they raise. Instead he has been hostile and evasive from Day 1. He would not tell me, for instance, his age, his jump rate, and other basic and non-controversial facts. Half the time he slams the phone down on reporters.
When you are agrumentative and unresponsive in court, they declare you a hostile witness and bear down on you. It is the same with the press.
Anyway, when these incidents occur, I will continue to call Dause and offer him the chance to tell his side of the story. If all he wants to do is argue or hang up, then the full picture may never emerge in the press.