Williamsburg woman who died in skydiving accident was an ‘icon of the sport’


CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WAVY) — A veteran skydiver from Williamsburg was found dead after an accident Thursday afternoon in South Carolina. 

The accident happened just after 3:30 p.m. at Skydive Carolina in Chester, about an hour’s drive southwest of Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Carolyn Clay, 68 of Williamsburg, had more than 19,000 jumps under her belt. She was skydiving at the facility’s annual “CarolinaFest” when she experienced a malfunction after deploying her main parachute. 

Clay began jumping in 1969, and received the lifetime achievement award three years ago from the United States Parachuting Association (USPA).

Her husband Charles used to jump with her and says no one can question her skill.

“(Carolyn was) as expert as you can get. There’s only one woman in the world with more jumps than her. And Carolyn had more freefall time than any woman in the world.”

USPA Director of Safety and Training Jim Crouch gave WAVY this statement about what happened:

“(Her career included) 19,300 jumps and 324 hours of freefall time. Each skydive takes about one minute of time in freefall. She was killed when her parachute opened very hard. Several of the suspension lines snapped and the parachute spun to the ground. She was unresponsive after the opening. In past cases like this, the jumper suffered a broken neck or torn aorta from the hard opening. Parachutes are designed to open slowly, taking anywhere from 600 feet to 1,000 feet to fully inflate, gradually slowing down from the 120 mph freefall. But, if the parachute is not packed correctly, or if some other circumstances with the jumper’s body position or freefall speed come into play, the parachute can open much faster, and a large amount of force is applied to the jumper’s body.”

Charles Clay says he met his wife while both were in the Navy. “She wanted to learn how to fly, but couldn’t afford the lessons and skydiving was free.”

He says Carolyn had been on track to have made her career goal of 20,000 jumps by her 70th birthday,  and was still jumping several times a month up till the end.

Crouch says Clay was “an icon of the sport.”

Her husband says anyone who knew anything about skydiving knew of Carolyn Clay.

“One particular time we went to a drop zone in Ireland. We walked up and I put our names on the manifest and it was celebrity city,” he said about his wife, who was dubbed “The Queen of Skydiving.”  

“Typically anywhere in the world she was immediately recognized.”

She began jumping back in her Navy days when she was stationed at Patuxent River. The couple were both Navy veterans, and used to skydive together.

“She would pack my parachute and all I had to do was climb in the plane and fall out,” Clay recalls with a laugh. “It was all the fun and no work.”

Skydive Carolina released this statement Thursday night: 

“The Skydive Carolina staff and community mourn the loss of a fellow jumper who had a wonderful career in the sport.” 

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