Michael Metcalf remembers: Mark was a young man who had a passion and excitement for skydiving. He was a good flyer and caught on to new things very quickly. He had a quick sense of humor and an obvious joy for life. If anyone said, "Let's make a jump" he was first to say "Yeah, let's go!"
Tim Davis remembers: I could write a book about Mark Leverenz because he, Doug Scofield and I grew up as kids together. I knew his brothers and sister. I played little league baseball and junior high baseball with Mark. What I remember most about Mark was his smile, laugh and sense of humor. He was always doing something goofy and would get everyone laughing.
I entered the Marine Corps in 1974 and when I got out in 1978 Mark, Doug and I rented a house in Bellevue. One Saturday we were all at Lake Sammamish State Park when students in the first-jump class at Issaquah started jumping. Mark said, "We need to go do that." It took us 3 weeks to get our act together and on June 17, 1978 all 3 of us made our first jump together. Within a year we had all cleared student status and, of course, Mark was the first one to own a square parachute before Jamey (drop zone owner/operator) would let him jump it. I think Doug actually jumped it first. Because of another tragic accident when Kirk Edison was killed trying to transition from old school rigs (belly wart and back pack) to state of the art piggy back some changes were made to allow us to jump new gear much sooner.
Mark was very influential in my life. After we moved out of the house in Bellevue we got an apartment together in Renton. I had met a young lady who was a skydiver from Kapowsin, and with Mark's relentless prodding to "ask her out, ask her out," I did – and the rest is history as Patty and I were married not long afterwards.
Our first big trip was to Bill Dawes' place in Pope Valley where we were able to watch world class skydivers participating in relative work and CRW. Mirror Image was training there as well as Unity, the CRW team, and some European teams. When we returned we wanted to be the next Cleareye Express out of Issaquah (world-class relative work team). The only problem; Doug and I were leaning toward CRW and Mark was leaning toward freefall. Mark continued to improve his freefall skills, and Doug and I, along with Steve King and Steve Morcom, started the Considerable Difficulty 4-way rotation team in CRW.
Later on, Mark was on the 8-way free fall team Gear Drive, and I was on Eclipse, an 8-way speed CRW team, but we still made sure to get fun jumps in together and as often as we could. Mark knew that my freefall skills were not at his level, but that made no difference. He would call me all the time saying he was going to Toledo and other drop zones to follow the Lodestar trying to get me to go. He finally pestered me so much I told Pat, "OK we are going to Arlington today to visit our friends whether we jump or not." But, of course, as soon as we pulled up Mark ran over and said, "I hope you are packed – we get the next load." But, of course, as always, I was not – but we were ready for the following load. It was somewhere around 2 PM and I was only going to make the one load and head home, but Mark talked me into staying for the last load. Pat was getting tired and gave up her slot. That next load changed a lot of people's lives.
I miss Mark a lot. He was one year and one day younger than I was, and we always celebrated our birthdays together – the last time being October 29, 1983, posthumously, at the Red Lion inn in SeaTac with all our friends and his family.
Doug Scofield remembers: Mark Leverenz was a very good friend of mine. We knew each other through high school, I knew his whole family, and I was family.
Mark and I shared an apartment in the Renton Highlands, where he practiced "Hung Gar," a form of Kung Fu. I discovered he had been training for years. He practiced on (with) me.
We would visit his family, and occasionally his dad would tell us a story of the old barnstorming days of skydiving. Stories such as low pull contests – Forget the main! Use the belly wart! No pilot chute! Pull and punch! It turns out Mark's dad had hundreds of skydives in the early days. We decided that skydiving needed to be checked out.
When we first walked on to the drop zone in Issaquah, friendly, smiling skydivers greeted us. They pointed out a 4-way dive that was exiting so we could watch. We had never seen a free-fall skydiver before. Three of the four landed right in front of us, in the back yard, in bikinis. We were impressed, as they were friendly and suggested we try skydiving. That night we started making plans to jump.
As a coincidence, a life-long friend was just getting discharged after several years in the Marines, most of them in helicopters. Mark and I planned to convince Tim Davis to make a skydive with us.
When Tim got home, Mark and I were going to "spring the question," but Tim beat us to the punch when he asked us if we wanted to make a jump – that blew us away – too funny!
The three of us made our first jump together out of 89 Alpha (a Cessna 170) on June 17, 1978, wearing 1940s surplus equipment, including 4-pin static line main deployment, and no-pilot-chute belly warts. We went right back and made another jump the same day.
All three of us continued jumping for years.
Doug Scofield remembers the final flight of the Lockheed Lodestar, N116CA on August 21, 1983.
The dirt-dive was called, Don and Carlene Hood backed off the load, and the practice ensued. This time a different tactic was employed – 8 less experienced jumpers would exit first as floaters, then the Gear Drive (team) 8-way would exit to form a fast base 8-way formation, and finally more-experienced jumpers would exit last and close on the formation.
The take-off procedure had everyone backed up against the bulkhead while the Lodestar accelerated to an unusually high speed on the ground before the take-off rotation. This was because the Lear engine modification (an oversized radial installation) was relatively new to the airframe and the high ground speed would provide safety in case of an engine failure during take-off. No seat belt regulations were in effect.
The climb to altitude was the same as the first three loads, a "Blue-Sky" day. This aircraft, with its oversized engines, climbed quickly and loudly. Those who have been near the door will remember those raspy loud engines.
Mike, the head pilot, flew the first three loads from the left seat, and Eric was in the right seat. On the first 3 loads I was the last jumper out, which allowed me the chance to observe flight operations during the climb to altitude.
For the fourth load, Mike decided to have Eric fly, and they changed seats. Both had thousands of flight hours, but Mike was by far the more experienced jump pilot. For this last load, I had been switched to a door spot.
As the Lodestar approached its jump-run, I was in the door, with Mike Metcalf spotting. Seven more were ready to line up. We were at 12,500 feet (2.37 miles up). The typical corrections were given, although in this aircraft that meant signaling the front jumpers to relay corrections to the pilot.
At this point, power was cut on the left engine (I knew because my head was out the door). It seemed odd to me because the "cut" had not been called, but others on the load didn't seem to notice or care. I believe that the new pilot, knowing the procedure (i.e. left, left, right, right, cut!), had cut left engine power on his own initiative, which began slowing the aircraft even though spotting was not yet done. Mike gave a final correction and called for the cut and the climb-out. I believe that when the pilot received the call to cut power – even though he had already cut power to the left engine – he throttled back even further which created more speed loss and altitude issues.
By this time, the first group of 8 had climbed out and were in the door.
During the climb-out, the aircraft had started to buffet and just didn't feel right – there was very little wind and prop-blast. The exit count didn't make it to "go" before the tail fell, then flipped back up. I found myself face-to-face with Kris and knew there was a huge problem – I looked back at Tim and let go.
As the aircraft was slowing on jump-run, some jumpers were climbing out the door, and others were packing together near the door – that's when the aircraft began to buffet due to the low air speed. The pilot began trimming the aircraft's nose down to improve loss of pitch stability. However, the tail-heavy airframe stalled, pitching the tail section down then up. Jumpers were thrown to the ceiling, then the floor. At this point, the jumpers outside and the jumpers near the door exited the aircraft which removed about 1,600 pounds of weight.
By now, the pilot had realized the aircraft had stalled, and he pushed the left engine throttle to full in an attempt to regain airspeed and recover from the stall. But it was too late – the full nose down trim exaggerated the effects of nearly 1 ton of weight having left the tail.
As the Lodestar flew down and away from me, I watched as the twin tails went vertical, then continued over the top as it fell away, tail first, inverted (picture that). No one was getting out at that point. To make matters worse, the excited throttle-up had caused an over-speed of the radial engine (Hartzell prop hubs are slow to respond to pitch control) which shattered the crankshaft. The prop flew away and the left engine burst into flames and smoke. I couldn't see the prop go, but I could see the results. The prop was found in a nearby field.
By this time the aircraft was inverted and falling straight down in a spin caused by one engine at full throttle and the other on fire. No one was getting out.
After an eternity (2-4 seconds) the spin slowed – it had made at least 3 spins, and I believe the pilot cut the right throttle at this point. Then the aircraft flipped back over on its belly but it was "potato chipping" – falling like a chip, flopping around. At this point the next 5 jumpers got out, and the Lodestar rolled over into its final dive. For a reference, I was falling above the Lodestar as this happened.
After the aircraft rolled over and dove, no one got out. It dove in a giant "S" with the prop screaming. People estimated that it was about 20 seconds from stall to impact. It was probably longer, though, as ground observers did not confirm a problem until several seconds after the aircraft had actually stalled.
Just seconds before impact, I saw a "dot" leave the aircraft diagonally. Then another left vertically a second later. The aircraft's diving speed caused those two to eject up and away from the plane. The last jumper out deployed his main, but it was destroyed due to the high speed. He cut away, fired his reserve, took opening shock and landed with virtually no canopy ride whatsoever.
As this was happening, the Lodestar impacted and exploded.
The diagonal exit was Mark – he had been struck by the horizontal stabilizer and been thrown into an off-heading trajectory. His rig was damaged, and the impact deployed his main canopy which opened at more than 350 miles per hour. The opening shock severely damaged his main canopy – a Comet – which blew apart 4 of the 7 cells. He opened at about 3,500 feet under a damaged canopy, unconscious and spinning.
I deployed without thought, staring at the fireball on the ground.
Open and in shock, Tim and I flew together. I was elated as we identified Mark's canopy below us – we dove down to it and circled around him. My elation turned to despair as we realized that he was severely injured and unconscious.
Mark landed in a slow, spiral tumble.
I landed just after Mark, as Kary and Pat ran out to him. The scope of things soon became clear; a circle of jumpers formed and began to count – who was there? Who wasn't?
I remember being amazed at the amount of "whuffo" on-lookers who appeared, as well as medics, police, and fire fighters. Someone from the FAA was handing out forms. My surviving friends were in shock. My other friends' parents were waiting for me to come tell them that it was not true.
It was a long, quiet drive home.
My finish for this sad story is that I rebuilt Mark's Comet, and made 2 jumps on it during the Memorial dives at Issaquah. There were not many dry eyes when I landed.
I still have his rig and parachute.