Zach Fogle had spent the last five years skydiving. With 125 jumps under his belt, he was a veteran of the dangerous sport. But none of that could save the life of the 27-year-old when his parachute failed to open on the way down during a 10-day skydiving event in Washington State.
Fogle's death is horrifically sad. He was a 27-year-old man who died. But he's made the news this week not because he died exactly, but because he was a quadriplegic who died. He was a man with little control of his extremities because of a car accident when he was in high school.
It could be inferred by the massive amount of media attention to Fogle's story that his handicapped status somehow made this tragedy different. It's certainly an interesting bit of information. The journalist in me admits it couldn't have been left out. When I read Fogle was unable to reach his emergency cord in time, I'll admit curiosity made me wonder, "Did his lack of mobility play a role here?"
But the more I think about it, whether he was hampered by a lack of mobility or a freak cord tangling doesn't matter in the long run. It's troubling to think that we care more about Fogle's death because he was a quadriplegic. Would we somehow care less if he had full use of all of his appendages? Would his life somehow be worth less?
The fact is, I don't care who signs up to be a skydiver. Whether he's got two arms and legs in perfect condition or two arms and legs that have seen better days. It's a dangerous sport, and an unpredictable one. Skydiving has claimed the lives of 473 people since 2004. The causes of the five most recent fatal incidents (not including Fogle's) were all different.
If you're a skydiver, you have to know it's dangerous. You have to know that the only thing standing between you and the ground is your parachute, and you have to be OK with that before you dive. You have to know that you might need to be able to pull an emergency cord to survive. Once you decide you're OK with all that, provided you're doing it of your own free will (not because someone is holding a gun to your head), what happens after you dive isn't about your ability to handle the dive but about the fact that you CHOSE to do it.
Zach Fogle decided he wanted to be a skydiver. He made that choice. It's very sad that he died while doing it. But he didn't die because he's a quadriplegic. He died because he's a guy who wanted to try a risky sport.
What do you think about skydiving?
Image via wjklos/Flickr