Start Skydiving will be “a lot less bright” after an employee died Monday night, one day after she was critically injured when she accidentally walked into an operating propeller on an airplane.
Sarah Rhoads, 24, of Miamisburg and office manager for three years at Start Skydiving, passed away from the injuries Monday night at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. She was surrounded by family and the friends she had made at the business, said John Hart, owner of the skydiving company, based at Middletown Regional Airport.
“It doesn’t get any worse than this,” Hart said. “She was like a daughter. I loved that girl.”
To memorialize Rhoads, a Labor Day event at the airport, called the “Work Stinks Boogie” will be renamed the “Sarah Boogie” this year, Hart said. He said the weekend features more than 500 skydivers and a free fireworks show.
“We will never forget Sarah,” Hart said. “We want to celebrate her life. It was one of her favorite times.”
Kyle Whittier, a skydiving instructor, described Rhoads as “a nerdy skinny girl who tried to fit in and who fit in pretty well.” They both lived in Miamisburg and over the past 2½ years became good friends, he said.
On Sunday afternoon, Rhoads, as she frequently did, walked out of the hangar to the plane on the tarmac to ask the pilot if he wanted any food. But for some reason, she walked into one of the propellers on the Nouvel Air airplane that was idle on the tarmac. She was flown by CareFlight to Miami Valley Hospital, where she was listed in critical condition Sunday and Monday. Ten minutes after the accident, Hart and other skydivers landed at the airport after performing in Jacksonville, Fla. He said the incident was “absolutely horrible” and the “worst nightmare of my life.”
Middletown Fire Capt. Jeff Spaulding said it was his understanding that the pilot issued warnings to the victim to keep away from the plane.
“She just made an error,” Hart said. “Usually the propellers are going so fast, you can’t see them. She probably walked around the nose and didn’t see it.”
Hart said Rhoads frequently yelled at people if they crossed the yellow safety lines. Hart said he still has more questions than answers.
The Federal Aviation Administration has opened an investigation into the incident, as is protocol in accidents involving airplanes. The FAA will look at areas under its regulatory responsibility, including rules of flight, certification of the pilot and aircraft and training, according to FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory.
Hart said Start Skydiving would be open this week, weather permitting.
“She would want that,” Hart said of Rhoads.
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