South Lake Tahoe Skydiving Expert Takes Fatal Jump

By: Auburn Hutton Email
By: Auburn Hutton Email

A South Lake Tahoe man died late yesterday afternoon, doing something he loved. 30-year-old Wes Harberts was killed in a skydiving accident in Minden, when his parachute failed.

Douglas County Sheriff's investigators say the FAA and the Minden Tahoe Airport Operations department are still looking into the crash. They say they don't suspect any criminal activity and there's really no one to blame for the accident. They're only trying to find out why the man's parachute malfunctioned.

Wes Harberts jumped out of planes more than 8,000 times before his death. He and his girlfriend, Aja Niemann, co-owned a Minden company, called "Skydive Tahoe." The plane he jumped from stayed on the ground while the investigation took place. Pilot Mike Starck told the F-A-A what happened. He says Harberts deployed his parachute, but it didn't work correctly, and he spiraled to the ground.

"Certainly there was something he could have done, but somehow it didn't happen. Maybe he ran out of time, I don't know. It's not a normal situation."

The United States Parachute Association, or USPA, reports an average of 30 skydiving deaths per year...that number out of more than two million safe jumps. Starck says a death is extremely rare, especially when the diver is as experienced as Harberts was. He says while he'll dearly miss his friend of the skies, the death won't stop him or many others from future skydives.

"I've got over 7,000 jumps and I have two children that jump. My son's got probably about 6,000 jumps already. Will I keep jumping? Of course. I'll keep jumping and flying."

Starck says there's no doubt that skydiving is a risky sport, but he thinks it's no more dangerous than driving a car. He says no one could have predicted what would happen during Harberts last free-fall, but life goes on. He says he finds peace knowing that his friend died doing something he was truly passionate about.

"How much did he love skydiving? Well if he wasn't skiing, he would be here skydiving. He was here all the time. He jumped every day if he could. The more the better. It was his life."

Starck says that Harberts girlfriend, Aja, is just as passionate about skydiving as her boyfriend was. He says, he thinks she too, will continue to participate in the sport.

The Myspace page for the couple's skydiving company bears a saying on it that sums up their love for the sport. It says: "The only things in life you regret are the risks you didn't take."


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