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Mon, Jan 25, 2010

Gone West: Stephen O'Keefe

Unpredictable Winds Blamed In Skydiving Accident

Stephen O'Keefe, 70, died last week of internal injuries sustained after a hard skydive landing at Zephyrhills Municipal Airport (KZPH) on January 17.  The veteran parachutist's death is being blamed on an unexpected gust of wind as he approached the ground near Skydive City.

O'Keefe is described by friends and family as serving in the Marines Corps and the Army Special Forces before moving to the FBI.  He also spent 19 years as a prosecutor in the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office in Florida.

"He was an amazing guy. Very athletic for his age, and he was an avid skydiver," remarked Bruce Bartlett, Chief Assistant State Attorney. "Everyone's in shock."

O'Keefe is survived by his wife, Mary, and grown children Joseph and Katie.  They all remember him as a tough, loving, and spiritual man that always made time for his family.

"Most folks think their parents were superheroes," his son Joseph O'Keefe, 38, told the St. Petersburg Times. "I got to grow up with a real-life superhero."

Skydive City manager David "TK" Hayes was a friend and saw O'Keefe before he was taken from the airfield to the hospital. He told the paper O'Keefe was awake and alert when he was taken away, but Hayes could tell he was in pain.

"We've seen a lot of skydiving injuries," Hayes said. "I knew he was broken."

This is the first death for the facility in 2010.  Previous years have seen other experienced skydiver fatalities at KZPH. The United States Parachute Association (USPA) reported a 40-year low in skydiving fatalities for 2009, with 16 civilian fatalities out of nearly 3 million jumps. 

The USPA says the drop is due to safer equipment and better training.

FMI: www.SkydiveCity.com

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