A Georgia teenager on her first skydive and a veteran instructor died when their falls failed

The 18-year-old and a veteran instructor died when something went wrong during the tandem skydive in Thomaston, Georgia on Sunday.

As her siblings and parents watched from the ground, they saw a spinning parachute and two people doing somersaults in the sky. They later learned it was Jeanna.

“We were all so excited for her to land and talk to her and hear her story,” her father, Joey Triplicate, told CNN. “I feel like they stole that from us and now they’re stealing the rest of his life from us. It’s so painful.”

The Newnan teenager and Warner Robins instructor Nick Esposito, 35, died at the scene, Upson County Sheriff Dan Kilgore said in a statement provided to CNN. The sheriff’s office is investigating the accident.

“Upon exiting the aircraft, the main parachute did not open properly and went into a spin,” Kilgore said in the statement. The reserve parachute deployed at very low altitude but never fully opened, he added.

The sheriff said Esposito was an experienced skydiver and an employee of Skydive Atlanta, based at Thomaston-Upson County Airport, about 60 miles south of Atlanta.

Adding to the tragedy is that skydiving deaths are rare. In 2019, there were 15 fatal skydiving accidents in the United States out of approximately 3.3 million jumps, according to the United States Parachute Association. Tandem skydiving – what Triplicata used to do – is even safer, with one student fatality for every 500,000 tandem jumps over the past decade, according to the USPA.

Jeanna will never be able to cross the stage when she graduates from high school, which was postponed until late July due to the pandemic. She will not be able to attend the University of North Georgia. She will not become an English teacher, as her father said she aspired to do.

Triplicate said it broke her heart not to see the person her eldest would have become.

Triplicate, 43, described Jeanna as an atypical teenager. He said his daughter was “special” and had never caused problems for her mother and father.

“She was very family oriented and she wanted to do the right things in life,” he said. “She wasn’t breaking the rules. When we bought her first car, she didn’t want anything flashy or that would stand out.”

The teenager had just graduated from Northgate High School, where she was part of the color guard team. She was the captain in her senior year and she enjoyed performing alongside her brother, Giovanni, 15, who was in the band.

Jeanna was obsessed with singer-songwriter Harry Styles. She had seen one of his concerts and was due to attend another next year, which was postponed due to the coronavirus. She wore a Harry Styles shirt the day she went skydiving, her father said.

Her other passions included Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” though it wasn’t the coolest thing for an “older teenager” to love, her dad said. She was also a huge “Grey’s Anatomy” fan, always trying to get her parents to watch it, which they never did.

“Right now, I can’t even imagine enjoying a TV show,” her dad said. “When we do, we will definitely watch it and think about her.”

Jeanna was very close to her grandmother, Renee Sands. She slept at her grandmother’s house and they watched “Grey’s Anatomy” together.

Jeanna and her grandmother, Renee Sands, went skydiving together.

Sands and Jeanna went skydiving together on Sunday. It was another adventure for the two of them to do and something Jeanna had wanted to do for years.

It was only Jeanna’s second time on a plane – the last time was when she was a baby, her father said.

“She just wanted to see what things were like in the air that high,” he said. “She had never been through this. It was a lot of firsts for her and it was supposed to be a great, great day and it turned out to be the worst day of our lives.”

Sands was the first tandem jumper to get off the plane that day. The 60-year-old is more of a thrill-seeker than her granddaughter and she eagerly went to find Jeanna to swap stories about their experiences, Triplicate said.

The whole family was waiting for Jeanna, to find out how it went. Her parents, her brother, her 9-year-old sister, Julia, and her sister’s friend waited, and it seemed to take too long.

Someone said she must have landed in the field near the airport, which happens sometimes, her father said. Some family members started to panic because they didn’t know anything.

“We get in the van and just run across the airfield. We had to cross the runway, and we don’t really care,” Triplicate said. “We had heard someone say he saw cop lights.”

That’s when he said they knew something was up.

At that point, his dad thought, “You know, for sure. It’s not happening,” thinking it was nothing major. Maybe she hurt her ankle on landing, he thought.

As the family approached the lot, two sheriff’s deputies were there. “He tells us it doesn’t look good and that’s where we lost him,” his father said.

It had been hours by this point, but when the sheriff’s deputy led all the adults into a room, Triplicate knew her life was about to change forever.

He protected his wife, Bridgette, and said he would tell the children what had happened. They had been there for the wait, the uncertainty and for what was to come.

“Usually you try to protect your kids, especially the younger ones, from something like that,” Triplicate said. “I felt so bad. You’re not supposed to see something like this at 9 years old.”

Jeanna and the instructor, Esposito, died after the parachute malfunctioned. Eyewitnesses saw the main parachute deploy, according to Skydive Atlanta.

“Our community is devastated for both our team member and the student and their respective families,” Skydive Atlanta owner Trey Holladay said in a statement. “We are all stunned and truly at a loss for words as we are a very close family. We have spoken with next of kin and all are asking for privacy as we process and grieve.”

Skydive Atlanta said it was working with authorities and the FAA to investigate what happened.

The skydiving shop has hosted “tens of thousands” of jumps since it opened in 1985, the statement said.

Jeanna was scheduled to take the stage when she graduated from high school at the end of July.

“We want to know what happened and I hope and pray that we finally know what happened,” Triplicate said.

He said he hoped for answers as authorities investigate.

“I want this to never happen again, that’s why I want to know what happened,” Triplicate said. “So a parent, a husband, a wife, a daughter will never have to go through this again. This pain is almost unbearable.”

The only thing that helped the family survive was the outpouring of love and support from people who loved Jeanna and even strangers, he said.

“In the state we are in the world right now and in the country with all the division, it’s nice to see all this love and support,” he said. “Jeanna would have loved that. She would have wanted us to be comforted and loved as much as possible.”

The Triplicate family plan to bury their daughter on Saturday after a public service in their hometown of Newnan.

The family created a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for the funeral.

“I hate that this tragedy is the reason people are going to find out about her and her life,” her father said. “Tragedy has happened and at this point we just want Jeanna to be remembered as the person she was, who was a wonderful young woman.”

About Tracy G. Larimore

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