Kenneth Bernek died in a skydiving accident over the weekend. (Pam Rizzo)
The man killed in a skydiving accident over the weekend was an experienced diver who was attempting a low jump from 5,000 feet above the ground, a more dangerous form of the risky sport, a friend said.
Kenneth Ryan Bernek, 34, of Waterford had probably sky-dived 1,800 times since he began the sport about 15 years ago, said his friend and fellow diver Randy Allison two days after Bernek’s untimely death.
Saturday afternoon he wanted to practice a high performance canopy flight, otherwise known as canopy swooping, in which the diver jumps out of a plane at 5,000 feet instead of the normal 14,000 feet.
Swooping requires a diver to accelerate vertically at a high rate of speed and then continue on horizontally as the diver nears the ground. The diver then glides parallel to the ground until he or she comes to a soft landing.
“This was just Ken going out and doing a jump by himself, no students were involved in any way,” said Allison, who along with Bernek, belongs to the Midwest Freefall Sport Parachute Club in Ray Township.
Allison said Bernek was highly skilled and flew a high performance parachute, used by divers with more technical skills. But Michigan State Police said Bernek lost control during his dive at 6:22 p.m. at Ray Community Airport.
A Ray Township woman, 53, was struck on the ground and taken to a hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. Allison said she lived nearby and occasionally stopped at the airport to watch the sky divers in action.
The Michigan State Police were investigating the accident.
Diving was a passion for Bernek, whose day job was as a skilled tradesman at the Ford Motor Company Romeo engine plant.
He joined the Midwest Freefall Sport Parachute Club in 2002. He started with solely diving but then started shooting video with a helmet-mounted camera and eventually became a tandem instructor. Through the club, he met his wife, Kimberly.
“He’s been part of our operations and community this entire time, he was a well respected guy, he was generally a nice guy with a lot of friends,” Allison said.
Services for Bernek are scheduled for Friday.