Two men fall to their death in Plattekill skydiving accident

A prominent Manhattan real estate executive and his instructor died in a skydiving accident on Friday afternoon in the Ulster County town of Plattekill.

According to news accounts of the accident, David Winoker, a 49-year-old father of three, and his instructor, 25-year-old Alexander Chulsky, were jumping in tandem, as part of a 50th birthday celebration for a friend of Winoker's. But their dive spiraled out of control, and the two fell to their death near Hurd’s Farm on state Route 32 near Modena.

Plattekill Police Chief Joseph Ryan told The Daily Freeman that eyewitness accounts from fellow jumpers suggested Chulsky was injured and knocked unconscious when the parachute deployed.

“The chute pretty much spiraled out of control, causing them to hit the ground with some impact,” Ryan said.

Ryan later told The Times Herald-Record that Chulsky had a pre-existing medical condition that could have caused him to lose conciousness during the dive.

However, an article from the Chappaqua Daily Voice reports that the company involved in the accident, the Gardiner-based Skydive The Ranch, insists Chulsky was conscious and deployed the parachute. An employee quoted in the article said she believed Chulsky became unconscious at some point after the chute opened.

"I can tell you that [instructor Alexander Chulsky] was alive and did deploy the main parachute," said Skydive the Ranch employee Carolyn Sullivan. "But then the parachute was doing a slow turn and continued to turn until they hit the ground."

Several downstate daily newspapers covered Winoker's funeral last Sunday. According to the New York Post, Jillian Winoker convinced her husband, who was known for being cautious and conservative, to go on the dive.

“He never said no to me. Maybe this time, he should have said no,” said a heartbroken Jillian Winoker of husband David at his packed Father’s Day funeral at a Bedford synagogue.

Chulsky was an avid and passionate skydiver, his friends told The New York Daily News.

“All he did was talk about it. He tried to get me to do it. He said it was a great rush,” said friend William Gonzalez, 44. “He was a great guy.”

Legal writer Andrew Lu weighed in on the case for Reuters, writing that the victims' families face a high bar if they want to sue for wrongful death:

Generally, when there is a malfunction with equipment or negligent behavior that causes death, the victim's family may be able to sue for damages. So if you buy a car, and the fuel tank explodes when you fill it due to faulty design, the car manufacturer is probably on the hook for a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

However, when someone is injured during an inherently dangerous activity like skydiving, there may be a bar to recovery through a legal defense called assumption of risk. Basically, the theory is that someone skydiving volunteers or assumes to take on the risk of serious injury or death.