"Defy Gravity"

"Hadassah Magazine"

"P.E. Enterprise"

Plane Crash Doesn't Stop World class sky diver


Plane crash doesn't stop world class sky diver

by Nathan Max, The Press-Enterprise.

25 October 2005
PERRIS - Considering all he has accomplished and what he has overcome to do it, one would think Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld would be a household name.

Brodsky-Chenfeld already has rock-star-style status within the sky-diving community, as should anyone who dominated a sport enough to win eight world titles and 16 national titles after almost dying in a plane crash.

Although worldwide fame, million-dollar endorsement deals and video games bearing his name have never materialized, Brodsky-Chenfeld said he is plenty happy promoting his sport in Perris, where he is general manager of Perris Valley Skydiving. With its world-class facilities, it is the perfect place for him to teach his sport.

Elite sky divers travel from around the globe to learn from "Dan BC," as his colleagues refer to him. In a profile on one sky-diving Web site, Brodsky-Chenfeld is referred to as: "A living legend."

"Any sky diver who's got more than a few jumps knows who Dan BC is, all over the world," said Amanda Kemp, who had traveled to Perris from England with three teammates to train with Brodsky-Chenfeld last week.

"He's just an awesome guy in terms of what he's achieved."

Brodsky-Chenfeld, 43, of Temecula, won titles at four World Cups, three World Championships and one World Games in four- and eight-way formation sky diving during a six-year run from 1994 through 1999. He retired from competitive sky diving in 1999, and returned in 2000 to win another national title without even training.

That's not bad for a man who spent five weeks in a coma with a broken neck, collapsed lungs, a ruptured appendix and other internal injuries after a 1992 plane crash that killed 16 people.

A metal plate in his neck reminds Brodsky-Chenfeld of the day he was one of six people to survive the crash of a twin-engine de Havilland during takeoff at Perris Valley Airport. Training for the World Championship, Brodsky-Chenfeld and three teammates had been about to go on a practice run that day.

The ensuing investigation determined that contaminated fuel caused one of the plane's engines to lose power after takeoff, according to published reports. Pilot error followed, and the DHC-6-200 Twin Otter plane bounced upright and nose-dived, witnesses said.

Both pilots and 16 sky divers died.

Far from being too traumatized to continue in the sport, Brodsky-Chenfeld said his second lease on life only strengthened his resolve. All eight of his world titles and many of his national titles came after that plane crash.

"It taught me, among other things, that if life can end at any moment, without any warning, you'd better be doing what you love to do at that moment," said Brodsky-Chenfeld, who remembers almost nothing about the day of the crash.

"I would do something else if I stopped loving this so much."

Born in Albany, N.Y., Brodsky-Chenfeld grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and began to sky-dive there at age 18.

As a child, he said, he was inspired by photographs of people in freefall, and he always had a desire to do it himself.

"I think every kid dreams of flying," he said. "Every kid watches birds and planes go by and just watches Superman and thinks, 'That would be so great.'

"I was one of those kids. I saw freefall, and I thought, 'That's it. I've got to do that,' even though I was only 5 or 6 years old."
Brodsky-Chenfeld has jumped out of airplanes more than 21,000 times, and the only injuries he has ever received in the sport were from the plane crash.

And while Brodsky-Chenfeld said he does not resent the fact that many of his peers in other sports are millionaires many times over, he does wish sky diving had more mainstream respect.

"I don't think personal fame is of any worth really," he said. "I'd like the sport to have more recognition.

"The impression most people have of sky diving is that it's just some nutty, crazy, extreme activity that only people who are lunatics do. No one realizes that this is an athletic sport."