MOORHEAD — An experienced skydiver from Moorhead died while skydiving in Marion, Mont., over the weekend.
Gerald F. Fischer, 81, died Saturday, Aug. 10, according to a death notice published in The Forum.
"It was a tragic accident," said Jim Krogh, 69, of West Fargo.
At the time, Krogh was with Fischer and a group of skydivers from Fargo-Moorhead attending the 52nd annual Lost Prairie Boogie, a major skydiving event drawing jumpers from across the globe.
Fischer's parachute had a "hard opening," a malfunction that instantly inflates the parachute, creating a lot of resistance and stress on the jumper.
The Flathead County Sheriff's Office reported once Fischer's parachute opened, witnesses said he began turning counter clockwise at 4,000-feet until landing in a pasture where he was pronounced dead.
"Skydiving is a dangerous sport that can generally be conducted safely," Krogh said. "Accidents are very rare and getting rarer."
The United States Parachute Association reported 13 skydiving fatalities in 2018 out of roughly 3.3 million jumps. That's the lowest number of fatalities in the sport's history, according to the association.
Krogh doesn't believe Fischer's age or health was a factor in the tragedy.
"Jerry was in pretty good shape," he said. "It was a normal skydive with a bad ending."
Krogh said there is a saying in the skydiving community from famous skydiver, Bill Wood: "You don't quit skydiving because you get old; you get old because you quit skydiving."
In a 2016 interview with WDAY, Fischer said skydiving is "one of those things you gotta put it on your list and at least try it once in your lifetime."
"It gives you a big adrenaline rush that you can't explain," he continued.
Fischer was a member of Skydive Fargo, a club founded in 1967 that operates out of the West Fargo Municipal Airport.
He was part of a group that broke a Minnesota skydiving record for the largest formation of people (12) gripping hands and highest altitude (14,500 feet), according to a 2010 Forum article. Krogh said Fischer also set world records, the most recent being in 2018 for the largest group of jumpers (25) over the age of 70.
In 2015, Skydive Fargo named Fischer, nicknamed "Fish," the Skydiver of the Year. That year Fischer reached a major milestone in his skydiving career, hitting 2,000 skydives.
Krogh said Fischer started jumping in the military as a member of the 101st Airborne Division. Fischer then took up parachuting as a sport in the 1990s, he said, and later fell in love with skydiving.
At the time of his death, Fischer had around 2,550 jumps under his belt, Krogh said.
“It's a sport, in many ways, that is like a lot of other sports. The big difference with the skydiving community is it can be competitive, but a lot of things we do are building things up together," he said. "There’s a very strong sense of community or family with the people involved in the sport.”
Over the years, Krogh estimates that he and Fischer had between 500 and 1,000 jumps together.
"He lived a full life," Krogh said.
"Jerry was known to people around the country, and we have friends from around the world we jumped with," he said. "The larger skydiving community will mourn his loss also."
Eric Skroch, who works at Meadow Peak Skydiving in Marion, Mont., said he got to know "Fish" over the years and jumped with him a number of times. He said in the skydiving community, you start to see the same faces everywhere, and everyone knew Fischer.
"It's a big community, but close-knit, not just locally but globally," Skroch said. "We'll definitely miss him here at Lost Prairie, that's for sure."
Skroch said he hopes to be doing what he loves when he's 81, like Fischer.
"The fact that he was able to be doing what he was doing at 81," he said. "I hope that I'm able to be skydiving when I'm that age."
Fischer's funeral is set for Monday, Aug. 19, at Wright Funeral Home in Moorhead. Visitation will be from 1 to 2 p.m., followed by the funeral. Burial will take place at Riverside Cemetery in Moorhead.