AP NEWS

Owner of Longmont’s Mile-Hi Skydiving Breaks Public Silence on Parachutist Death in October

April 3, 2019

Mile-Hi Skydiving owner Frank Casares this week spoke publicly for the first time about the October death of 23-year-old Logan Polfuss, who was last seen alive aboard a company plane before he died in a parachuting jump.

Casares had talked with investigators with Boulder County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as Longmont officials, before this week.

But in a rare and lengthy interview with the Times-Call — the newspaper has unsuccessfully sought comment from him for numerous reports on Polfuss’ death and other stories in recent months — Casares called the death a tragedy.

“It’s horrible,” Casares said.

Investigators with Boulder County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Aviation Administration ruled the fatal incident an accident .

Casares also said Mile-Hi never stopped searching for Polfuss once he was reported missing, and the company does its best to track skydivers in the air once they’ve jumped to ensure their chutes open.

Residents were questioning why the company did not begin looking for Polfuss right away after the deadly jump — he wasn’t reported missing for hours until his girlfriend notified law enforcement authorities when he failed to arrive home from his scheduled jump.

“I said it to the investigators, and to the mayor and city manager when they came and asked me questions, it’s very similar to a ski area,” Casares said. “You get on a chairlift, and you ride up, and when the skier gets off, if nobody saw him go off and he hurt himself in the woods, no one is going to know until someone reports it. That’s not to say we’re not on the lookout.”

But counting open parachutes when multiple skydivers have exited a plane — nine jumped from the same flight as Polfuss — in time to recognize when one hasn’t opened is difficult, Casares said. Polfuss was the last to jump from the flight, according to witness accounts in a Boulder County Sheriff’s Office report on the incident.

“His reserve parachute started coming out a second or two before he hit the ground, based on what we were told by the FAA,” Casares said. “It didn’t fully inflate. For us to be able to see that happening where he landed, you would have to be looking at that exact spot at that exact second.”

Mile-Hi staff was part of the helicopter crew that included Longmont police that identified the site where Polfuss was found dead, Casares said, which the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office report confirmed.

Polfuss had jumped with Mile-Hi at least 180 times before he died.

The sheriff’s office report said Shawn Caroll, an instructor with Mile-Hi, told investigators he was unsure if Polfuss was technically prepared to use a more advanced one-piece tracking suit for skydiving, which Polfuss was wearing for the first time on his last jump. He had previously only used two-piece suits, the report said.

Longmont this year hired a Florida-based aviation safety consultant for more than $29,000 to conduct an assessment of activity and the configuration at Vance Brand Municipal Airport, where Mile-Hi is based.

But Casares has questioned the city’s motive for doing so, noting the FAA conducts such airport safety assessments for free when requested. Mile-Hi has since asked the FAA to perform an evaluation at Vance Brand, although he does not yet know if or when the FAA will oblige.

A Longmont exhibit in a lawsuit filed by Mile-Hi against the city last month — the company claims newly updated Vance Brand land use policies are discriminatory — claims skydivers have expressed concern to city officials over the safety of Mile-Hi practices .

“I think Mile-Hi provides enjoyment to thousands of people every year and they bring in revenue to the city,” said Jeff Bowman, who helped lead an informal Longmont airport development committee that has provided reports to city leaders. “There is no reason it can’t coexist at the airport. I think it’s going to take both sides sitting down and trying to put together a fair agreement.”

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .