Fredericksburg, VA Golden Knight Parachutist Killed, June 1980

Thomas Johnson Memorial marker.jpg T.J. Johnson in center.jpg


Fredericksburg, Va. (AP) -- While his parents watched from below, Sgt. 1st Class THOMAS JOHNSON, a member of the Army's crack Golden Knights sky diving team, pulled the ring on his parachute -- and plunged 10,000 feet to his death.
"If he had had one or two seconds more he would have made it," said another Golden Knight after the accident Sunday.
Thousands of people here looked on as the veteran of more than 5,200 jumps fell to his death. In the crowd were a dozen of JOHNSON'S relatives, including his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Johnson of DeRuyter, N.Y., and his brother, Charles Johnson, Jr.
The accident occurred as the 33-year-old JOHNSON leaped from an airplane with Sgt. Carter Edge. Only one parachute appeared. The second jumper continued to fall, trailing the red smoke that was part of the demonstration.
Some spectators at first thought the jumper deliberately was delaying the opening of his parachute. Then came chilling words from an Army announcer: "It looks like we have a parachutist with a problem."
Maj. Thomas Woods, public affairs officer at Fort Bragg, N.C. where JOHNSON was stationed, said JOHNSON and Edge had jumped from the plane at 10,000 feet, made a baton pass, and then pulled the rings to deploy their parachutes.
Edge's chute opened, but JOHNSON'S failed, Woods said, when the small pilot chute used to pull the main chute free broke away.
It took several minutes for some of those in the crowd to realize what had happened. Some spectators said they thought it had been a dummy -- a part of the show.
"I could tell the man was in trouble," said Gardner Campbell, an announcer for radio station WFVA who was broadcasting live from the show. "He did not flail. He came down feet first with his arms out, just like he had a parachute, but he didn't."

The Capital Annapolis Maryland 1980-06-16