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Ottawa Skydiver Accident: A Scary Collision, But A Safe Return

OTTAWA, Ill. (CBS) -- It was an incredible, and safe, return to earth Tuesday after a scary collision between two skydivers in LaSalle County.

As CBS 2's Jim Williams reported, one of the skydivers was able to deploy his parachute. The other skydiver was knocked out, and technology saved his life.

Hundreds of skydivers head out to Summerfest Skydiving Festival at the Skydive Chicago resort in Ottawa – some 80 miles southwest of the city. The skydivers say they participate in thousands of jumps over a period of 10 days.

"It's the largest skydiving event in the world, pretty much," said Skydive Chicago owner Rook Nelson.

On Tuesday morning, two men – described as experienced skydivers – jumped from a plane and collided in midair.

One of the skydivers was knocked unconscious, headed for the ground. But he was wearing what's called an automated activation device inside a parachute pack.

"Essentially, it's just a device that measures how fast the person is falling and what altitude they're at," said Anthony Ebel of Skydive Chicago. "Once they hit a certain threshold, it then starts the deployment process of the reserve parachute."

That device activated the unconscious skydiver's chute and saved his life.

Skydiver Bill Morrissey, 81, was fresh from a jump when he talked with CBS 2's Williams Tuesday afternoon. He said he would not think of going up in a plane without the automated activation device.

"This is my 62nd year – 62 years of skydiving," Morrissey said, "and I wear an automated activation device, because that's what common sense tells you to do."

Morrissey, who has had more than 7,000 jumps, said the automation device is highly recommended for all skydivers.

"And even you do it all the time," he said. "This is how I got to be old."

One of the skydivers who collided landed in the Fox River just north of the Dayton Dam near a hydroelectric plant. The other landed back near Skydive Chicago.

A year ago, a skydiver died at Skydive Chicago after taking off from here when his parachute failed to deploy. But according to the United States Parachute Association, skydiving deaths have dropped in recent years.

There were 13 skydiving deaths nationwide in 2018, compared to 24 in 2017 and 21 in 2016, the association said. There are roughly 3.3 million jumps a year, according to the association.

"It's a dangerous sport. I don't think anybody denies that," Nelson said. "But there are steps to minimize that risk, and if you do those, like we saw today, the chances of getting hurt are even less."

Both of the skydivers Tuesday were taken to OSF St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa, according to the Ottawa Fire Department. They were described as conscious and alert with minor injuries.

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