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Skydiving firm under fire as injuries mount

A Saanichton skydiving company has come under fire after three people were injured in a span of five months.
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A Sooke man who suffered a brain injury in a skydiving incident last year is suing Capital City Skydiving.

A Saanichton skydiving company has come under fire after three people were injured in a span of five months.

A Sooke man who suffered a brain injury in a skydiving incident last year is suing Capital City Skydiving and a Duncan woman says she is frustrated that company officials won’t return phone calls regarding her injuries.

In April, 25-year-old Sarah Archer, of Duncan, fractured a lower vertebrae in her back when she fell through the trees and landed hard during a solo jump near Central Saanich’s Woodwynn Farms, which the company uses as a drop zone.

On June 17, Sooke construction worker Paul Taverner was strapped to an instructor in a tandem jump when the pair were blown off course. They got tangled in a tree in a heavily wooded area on Mount Newton and were left hanging for two hours.

Tyler Turner, a former employee of Capital City, had his right leg amputated after he made a hard landing at Woodwynn Farm in September.

These incidents raise questions as to why Canada lacks an oversight body that regulates the skydive industry.

“A commercial recreational sports outfit like Capital City Skydiving needs to take all reasonable steps to ensure their clientele are going to be safe,” said Kevin Gourlay, the lawyer representing Taverner in his civil suit.

“The fact that there’s multiple incidents raises red flags that they are failing in that duty.”

Taverner had never been skydiving before, but his girlfriend organized the June 17 jump as a 40th birthday present, according to the statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

Instead of landing on a flat patch of grass on Woodwynn Farms, Taverner and his tandem instructor fell into a dense patch of trees and were left hanging 30 metres off the ground.

Taverner was bleeding from a cut on his head that required 24 stitches, and had a broken pelvis, hip and arm.

He had to wait in the trees for two hours until an arborist could be called in to free the men.

Taverner’s life has changed since the accident and he has not been able to return to work.

“He’s still struggling with issues from his brain injury and rehab from his physical injury, so certainly his day-to-day life is affected,” Gourlay said.

Taverner is seeking damages for pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent physical and psychological disability, past and future income and expenses relating to medication and rehabilitation, according to the civil claim.

The lawsuit alleges that Capital City Skydiving was negligent on several fronts, including allowing new and unskilled skydivers to skydive in adverse weather or wind conditions, skydiving with faulty, inadequate or defective skydive equipment and for failing to properly pack the parachute.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. Capital City Skydiving has not filed a statement of defence.

Owner Bob Verret was unable to provide a full response as he is currently travelling in South America.

Reached by email, Verret said he was not aware that a civil claim has been filed in court.

In response to Taverner’s allegations, Verret said “that parachute was packed correctly and by a qualified tandem parachute packer. This jump was not performed in adverse condition[s].”

Verret added that he is a retired search-and-rescue technician for the Royal Canadian Air Force and was trained at the level of paramedic. He said all Capital City instructors are trained and qualified by the Canadian Sports Parachuting Association.

The company opened in July 2015. Its website says: “Owner Bob Verret is a passionate skydiver who had a dream to share their love of skydiving with others.”

The website says that Verret’s vision “was to create a fun, welcoming, and educated environment for new and experienced jumpers to feel comfortable in. At Capital City Skydiving, it is not only about the unconditional love of the sport, but also the environment and people. Not only did Bob work hard to secure the best and safest equipment, he employs some of the most enthusiastic, informed, and smiley staff!”

The company’s Cessna 182 single-engine light airplane, which holds four jumpers and a pilot, takes off from the Victoria International Airport.

Archer was in that Cessna twice last year. Her first jump, a tandem jump in March, went off without a hitch.

She decided she wanted to complete a solo jump course, finishing the in-class portion on April 7.

The next day, she jumped out of the plane alongside two other novice solo jumpers and an instructor.

Strong winds prevented the three solo skydivers from landing in the drop zone at Woodwynn Farms, Archer said.

One skydiver landed in someone’s front yard, while Archer fell through the trees and landed hard on her back, crushing a lower vertebrae.

“I don’t know how far I fell, they’re estimating 100 feet,” she said. “What I was told is that the wind speeds up top were faster than they’d expected.”

Verret said Archer’s jump “was not performed in adverse weather conditions.”

Archer spent a week in hospital and was off work for two months. She now has two pins in her spine to hold it together. Archer has repeatedly contacted the company to obtain her liability waiver form, but says her calls, text messages, Facebook messages and posts have gone unanswered.

Last year, Central Saanich wrote a letter of complaint asking the federal transportation regulator to investigate the company.

Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor said the municipality has done everything in its power to draw attention to skydiving safety.

“I would note that it’s a bit odd that a sport as dangerous as this and which involves airplanes doesn’t have some regulation from the federal government,” Windsor said. “It warrants another look.”

Transport Canada does not regulate parachuting or skydiving, but oversees the operation of the aircraft out of which skydivers jump to ensure companies comply with Canadian Aviation Regulations. The regulations cover pilot licensing, aircraft maintenance and passenger carriage.

“Capital City Sky Diving is operating in accordance with an approved Air Operator Certificate, and Transport Canada will continue to monitor the company’s compliance with the Canadian Aviation Regulations,” said Transport Canada spokeswoman Marie-Anyk Côté.

In 2004, an inquiry into the 1998 death of an 18-year-old skydiver named Nadia Kanji, whose parachute failed to deploy properly during a skydive in Beiseker, Alta., resulted in a report that urged Ottawa to establish regulations to govern the sport of skydiving and investigate accidents. That has not happened.

To obtain a licence, skydiving companies must register with a professional association, either the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association or the Canadian Associates of Professional Skydivers.

According to Transport Canada, the CSPA’s technical and safety committee conducts reviews when issues are identified and recommends action if necessary. However, it does not have the power to issue fines or force safety changes. The CSPA did not respond to requests for comment about whether any concerns have been raised about Capital City Skydiving.