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Golden Knights parachutist injured at Air & Water show dies

A member of the famed U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team died Sunday of injuries suffered in a mid­air collision over the weekend at the Chicago Air and Water Show, leaving a “heart­wrenching” void in a close­knit military community.

Sgt. 1st Class Corey Hood was a 14­-year U.S. Army veteran with “best friends everywhere,” Golden Knights spokeswoman Donna Dixon said. Roughly 40 family members came to his side in Chicago after the 32­-year­-old collided in the sky with a member of the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs on Saturday, she said.

“They said he was like the glue in the family,” Dixon said.

Hood was pronounced dead at 4:05 p.m. Sunday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, officials said. He is survived by his wife, Lyndsay. The Ohio native’s death is the Golden Knights’ first jumping fatality since the 1990s, according to Dixon and the Golden Knights Alumni Association.

“This is a very close­-knit Army organization,” Dixon said. “We’re more like a family. It’s heart­wrenching.”

The accident in the skies over Chicago is still under investigation, Dixon said. But she said it prompted an indefinite “safety stand­-down,” meaning any future Golden Knights jumps are temporarily on hold. The accident occurred at 11 a.m. Saturday during an annual spectacle that draws millions of people to the city’s lakefront.

Photos: Sunday’s Chicago Air & Water Show
2 Air & Water Show parachutists hurt in mid-air collision before stunned spectators on lakefront

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement he and his wife were “deeply saddened” by Hood’s death.

“Sgt. Hood is an American hero, having dedicated nearly half his life in service to our nation, and having bravely served five tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” Emanuel said. “He defended our freedom, he amazed so many as a member of the Golden Knights, and he will be missed.”

Dixon said a group of about 13 parachutists had just separated from a circle formation during a “bomb­burst procedure” — a stunt in which red smoke trails the parachutists in the air. She said Hood collided with the Navy parachutist, and the collision knocked him unconscious in the sky. Hood’s chute deployed automatically, Dixon said, but he crashed onto a sidewalk in the 1400 block of North Lake Shore Drive after he apparently clipped the top of a building.

The Navy parachutist suffered a lower leg fracture. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Christine Gargan said he remained at Northwestern hospital Sunday, but he was expected to recover.

Hood served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The forward observer had two Bronze Stars, two Meritorious Service Medals, the Master Parachutist Badge, the Pathfinder, Air Assault and Combat Action badges. He started jumping in 2010, and had logged over 500 free­fall jumps and 75 military static­line jumps, according to an online biography.

It said he enjoyed sports, riding motorcycles, skydiving and spending time with his family. A woman who answered a call from the Chicago Sun­-Times on Sunday referred calls for Hood’s family to the Army.

Guadalupe and Rick Ramirez at the Chicago Air & Water Show

Guadalupe and Rick Ramirez | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Spectators at the Air and Water Show said their concern for the parachutists trumped any disappointment that the parachute portion of the show was canceled on Sunday.

“It would have been awesome to see today, but you know, they come first, ultimately,” said Guadalupe Ramirez, 43, of Homer Glen.

Charlie Hall Jr., the vice president of the Golden Knights Alumni Association, said the group was formed in 1959 as a recruiting team similar to the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels. He called the Golden Knights’ sport “safe in general” but he said there’s “no room for error at all” when hurtling through the air at 120 mph.

“The Golden Knights are the most professional sky­diving team in the world,” said Hall, of South Carolina.

Golden Knight Jose Aguillon died in 1994 while practicing a Diamond Track maneuver in Yuma, Arizona, and pilot Butch Timmons died in 2002 in a mid­air collision in Marana, Arizona, according to the alumni association’s website.

Hall, a member of the Golden Knights from 1969 to 1974, also recalled the 1973 crash in North Carolina of a C-47 military aircraft carrying members of the Golden Knights that killed all on board.

“It’s a very horrible feeling when you’re as close to those people as we are,” Hall said. “We share our lives together. We depend on each other when we’re in free fall. It’s really a very, very sad moment when you lose a close personal friend like that.”

Contributing: Mitch Armentrout