NEPHI — A skydiving instructor and an outdoorswoman from Tooele were killed Thursday when their parachute failed during a tandem jump over the Nephi Municipal Airport, police said.
Serena Whelchel, 35, an instructor from California, and Wendi-Kay Gabaldon, 41, of Tooele, were killed after jumping about 7:15 p.m.
The jump organized through Sky Dive the Wasatch was one of possibly thousands that Whelchel had done, authorities said. Investigators believe a backup chute fired when the main one didn't deploy, "but for whatever reason, with the velocity and the elevation, it wasn't in time," Nephi Police Capt. Bert Wright said Friday.
"We don't know exactly what the malfunction was," Wright said.
Nephi police were working with representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration to determine what went wrong.
Evening dives at the airport happen "almost every night," Wright said, and any reports of injuries are rare. The Thursday accident was the first in at least 15 years, he said.
Sky Dive the Wasatch released a brief statement Friday saying that its "sincerest condolences go out to both families" and that it is cooperating with local authorities in the investigation.
Aaron Burton, who saw the crash, said he was in a hangar at the airport saw the pair "spinning toward the ground." He said it looked like the they weren't able to operate their controls.
"I thought hopefully they were just kind of doing some sort of aerobatic maneuver, coming in real fast, and then they didn't. They just kept going all the way to the ground," he said, adding that the women's families were in his thoughts.
Gabaldon was a graduate of East High School. Her profile picture on Facebook shows competitive bike racing, and there are recent posts about a trip to Goblin Valley with her family.
According to social media posts, Gabaldon was skydiving with other members of her family Thursday.
"It still feels unreal. I'm going to miss my aunt so much. She was a ball of energy. She would push us all around to make sure we were all ready for a fight. I'm definitely going to miss our 2 hour conversation about ideas she has. I'm going to miss her texts. I'm going to miss everything about her. Rest In peace beautiful," Sade Gabaldon posted on Facebook.
Contributing: Annie Knox