Watch CBS News

'I Could See Him Falling Through The Sky': Eyewitnesses Describe Seeing Deadly New Jersey Skydiving Accident

MONROE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) – A man died in a skydiving accident in Williamstown, New Jersey, on Sunday night, officials say. Investigators say 54-year-old Paul Haaf, of Monroe Township, was taking part in a group jump with Skydive Cross Keys when, shortly into the jump, he began having trouble with his parachute. Eyewitnesses say they saw Haaf "falling through the sky."

Paul Haaf
(credit: CBS3)

Haaf's brother told Eyewitness News he was briefed on the accident. He says it was a higher than usual jump and that Haaf was the second one out of the plane. His chute was tangled and as he tried to fix it, he went into a spin.

Man, Child Killed After 2-Alarm Blaze Rips Through Apartment, Officials Say

Authorities say the primary chute opened but it did not deploy correctly.

They say Haaf attempted to cut the primary chute off and deploy the backup chute. The secondary chute did deploy, but authorities aren't sure if it also did not work correctly, or if there just wasn't enough time before Haaf hit the ground.

Witnesses described seeing a white parachute at the scene, and as of noon Monday, the main parachute hadn't been located.

Family say Haaf started jumping when he was 40 years old and has done more than 1,200 jumps. His brother said there is no ill will toward Skydive Cross Keys, which released a statement acknowledging an accident, but would not comment further.

Six People Shot Outside Corner Store In Wilmington, Police Say

Haaf landed in the middle of Brookdale Boulevard, in Monroe Township, inside a townhouse complex.

"I thought it was a jet or a rocket, some kind of rocket going over," witness Maria Mead said. "Then it passed over the tops of the roofs on Brookdale and over the trees. I saw a shredded red parachute flailing down and I heard an explosion. Then I heard a really loud bang."

"I was sitting in my mom's backyard and I heard plastic flapping and I looked up to my left and I could see him falling through the sky," said Amy Lancetta. "Saw him come through the sky and heard the impact and just ran and screamed, 'Call 911.'"

Pictures on social media show Haaf was heavily involved in the skydiving community.

"A good guy, very nice and all the conversations that we had it was about skydiving, how he loved it. It's what he loved to do," said neighbor Frank Mauger. "I even talked to him about me doing it and he was like he was the guy to go to."

According to the U.S. Parachute Association, skydiving fatalities are rare with one death per about 160,000 jumps each year.

The Gloucester County Medical Examiner's Office determined Haaf's cause of death was due to multiple injuries and ruled the manner of death accidental.

The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office and the Monroe Township Police Department are investigating the incident with the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.