Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts talks about the response he has received from members of the community since returning to town after being in a sky diving accident Memorial Day weekend in California. Tuesday was Roberts' first full day back on the job.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts talks about the response he has received from members of the community since returning to town after being in a sky diving accident Memorial Day weekend in California. Tuesday was Roberts' first full day back on the job.

Roberts back at City Hall

Effects of May skydiving accident hard to spot in city manager

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— You would have been excused for doing a double take and slipping off the treadmill Monday night when Jon Roberts walked into the gym at Old Town Hot Springs.

Most people don't walk away from a skydiving accident, let alone return to the gym less than a month later. But aside from some slight weight loss and a little less color in his face, you would never guess the harrowing ordeal from which Steamboat Springs' city manager is emerging.

Roberts returned to City Hall on Tuesday for his first full day of work, including a late Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, since his Memorial Day weekend skydiving accident in Perris, Calif.

"I feel great. I'm really glad to be back part of all the action items going on back in the city," said Roberts, who added that he still lacks strength and endurance but is only mildly sore.

Roberts said he had never spent a day in the hospital before the accident. "It just drove me crazy being in the hospital."

Roberts, an experienced skydiver with about 50 jumps under his belt, was injured when he was unable to locate the rip cord for his main and reserve parachutes.

The reserve parachute eventually deployed high enough for Roberts to land safely, but he nearly hit a building and became tangled in TV antennae above it.

His parachute collapsed, and he fell about 30 feet to the ground and tore his thoracic aorta, which is a segment of the aorta - the largest blood vessel in the body that is connected to the heart and delivers oxygenated blood to all parts of the body.

According to Trauma.org, the aorta "is at greatest risk from the shearing forces of sudden deceleration," and thus, at risk in falls from heights, car crashes and other severe impacts.

"Up to 15 percent of all deaths following motor vehicle collisions are due to injury to the thoracic aorta," an article on trauma.org states. "Many of these patients are dead at scene from complete aortic transection."

Roberts, who remained conscious throughout his entire accident, said he didn't initially realize how badly hurt he was.

"It was kind of like just having the wind knocked out of you. I had no idea I had been injured until I woke up (after surgery)," Roberts said. "I am so obviously grateful to have come through that ordeal in pretty good shape."

Roberts said he also is grateful to the medical staff at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California and for the warm reception he has received since returning to Steamboat last week.

"Something like that touches you very much," Roberts said.

Roberts has previously spoken of his active lifestyle and hobbies including scuba diving and hiking, as well as skydiving. While he described his accident as a life-changing experience, Roberts said his passion for that lifestyle has not subsided.

"Honestly, I don't have any reservations about it, but I have made a promise to my wife that I have officially retired from the sport of skydiving," Roberts said. "As my wife said, there's plenty of other things to do in Steamboat Springs, so we don't need to go skydiving."

In a previous interview from his hospital room when he recounted his skydiving accident, Roberts expressed frustration with the accident, particularly the fact that it was so hard for him to find the rip cord on his reserve parachute.

He said Monday that he has been focused on his recovery and has not yet spoken with the company he jumped with about the accident.

"The investigation of the equipment showed that everything was correctly packed, maintained and working properly," Dan Brosky-Chenfeld, general manager of Perris Valley Skydiving, wrote in an e-mail. "The 'pilot chute,' the deployment device for the main parachute, was still in the pocket. The reserve rip cord also (was) in the proper place. We don't know why Jon had a problem pulling them."

Federal officials are conducting their own investigation of the accident. A message left with the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday inquiring about the status of that investigation was not returned.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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