Fresno State skydiving team endures tragedy

Tragedy struck the Fresno State BulldogBlitz skydiving team on Nov. 7 when Dave Gilbert, owner of the Madera Parachute Center, home base for the team, was killed in a skydiving accident.

Gilbert, 65, of Madera, was jumping around 3 p.m. at the Pomegranate Festival during a demonstration at Madera Municipal Airport.

His parachute became tangled as soon as he jumped, the Madera Police Department said. He tried to deploy his backup parachute but it also failed. Gilbert landed in the parking lot in front of several witnesses.

Gilbert is known for his skydiving into Fresno State’s Bulldog Stadium prior to 9/11 when the area became a “no-fly zone.”

The BulldogBlitz skydiving team released a statement after the accident on Facebook that said:

“Our community lost a member of our DropZone family in a tragic accident [on Nov. 7]. We all know the risk involved with our sport, but didn’t believe it would ever be one of ours. He was our ground crew, part of our team and family. Hug the ones you love and cherish those special moments, life is precious. This will be a time of grief and mourning for our team, family and community.”

His daughter, Sarah Gilbert, is a Fresno State alumna and member of the BulldogBlitz skydiving team.

Prior to the accident, Sarah said she grew up being surrounded by skydiving.

“I grew up out here, this is my dad’s business and I’ve been out here every weekend since as I long as I could remember,” Sarah said. “It’s in my blood.”

During Sarah’s days as a member of the Bulldog Marching Band, only one thing was on her mind during game-day at Bulldog Stadium.

“Every single time I walked into that stadium, I imagined how I would fly and land into it,” Sarah said.

Sarah was able to jump into the stadium during the football team’s first game against the Abilene Christian Wildcats on Sept. 3. This was something that her father did more than a decade ago.

“It’s sort of following in his footsteps, just the feeling of continuing that legacy so to speak, is just really awesome,” Sarah said.

“My very first game that we jumped into [was] just indescribable. I can’t find adequate words to really give as an idea to what we feel when we go in,” Sarah added.

Seeing her father in the football field as she soared into the stadium was sentimental for Sarah.

Once you are in the air as you skydive, Sarah said that there wasn’t much time to think as the BulldogBlitz jumped into the stadium on Sept. 3.

“But the adrenaline rush you get out of it is unlike anything else in the world. It’s incredibly unique and there’s nothing else that I’ve found that can compare to it,” Sarah said.

The BulldogBlitz skydiving team was formed this year and is an all-female skydiving demonstration team. It’s one of the few teams of its kind in the sport.

Amy Anderson, the skydiving team captain, said that their first jump into Bulldog Stadium was exciting because no one knew that the team was all-female.

“The first jump was so exciting because it was a secret,” Anderson said. “They knew there was skydivers, they didn’t know that we were all female. So we were just super excited to bring it back and to see how excited everybody was and the response that we got. It was incredible.”

Anderson described the team’s first demonstration jump as her favorite jump to date.

The all-female skydiving was full of emotions that ranged from excitement to nervousness as it was their first demo jump together into something like a stadium.

There was one thing on Anderson’s mind.

“Don’t mess up. Don’t mess up,” she said.

The team makes sure that their equipment is completely intact before a jump.

“For the [demonstration] jumps, we want to make sure our gear is completely intact, try to avoid a cutaway if possible,” Anderson said.

They look at everything on their parachuting rig, including: pins, handles, lights to illuminate their parachutes, GoPro cameras, flags, streamers, helmets and glasses.

Before their first jump on Sept. 3, Anderson said that the team circled Fresno in their airplane and looked out their window toward the stadium. They envisioned exactly what they were going to do.

“There was a calmness about it because we’re like, ‘We’re going to enter the same way, the winds are the same, it’s going to be easy, it’s going to be great,’” Anderson said.

“Then as we saw the stadium with people in it and the cars parked everywhere, we just got really excited and kind of right before the jump, we all got really quiet, we just kind of did our handshakes, looked at each other and knew we could do it,” Anderson added.

The BulldogBlitz team captain said that they felt relief while they were up in the air.

“For us, we didn’t feel relief on the ground, it was once we were in the air,” Anderson said. “Because at that point, that’s where we’re comfortable, we’re committed, we’re under canopy, we know what we’re doing.”

“We were out of our head, we were just doing it, it was great and it worked out well and everyone landed well and it was really exciting. The crowd was so excited too, so it made it really exciting for us,” Anderson added.

Anderson was fascinated with skydiving as a child.

Her mother was a skydiver, her father was a jump pilot (a pilot who flies for skydivers).

“My brother and I both were raised around aviation, so being in the air made sense to me from a young age,” Anderson said.

“I would love to go fly with my mom, or go up in the air with my dad and watching her skydive when I was young, it was always something I knew I would do,” Anderson added.

Troy Pope contributed to this story

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