Skydiver, 65, dies after parachute malfunctions in Chester County

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comMay 5, 2014 

Wolfgang Peter Langehans

— Wolfgang Peter Langehans’ first jump from a plane came when he was in the military. More than 5,000 jumps later, his last dive from a plane came Sunday when his parachute failed to deploy during a jump from 13,000 feet , authorities said.

Langehans, 65, of Columbia was pronounced dead at Skydive Carolina on King Air Drive in Chester, said Chester County Deputy Coroner Tommy Williams. An autopsy was scheduled for Monday.

Having amassed more than 5,500 jumps, Langehans leaped from a Cessna 208 aircraft at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, but his parachute failed to open, according to Federal Aviation Administration officials. The FAA is investigating.

Langehans spent more than 30 years as a skydiving enthusiast, officials with Skydive Carolina said Monday. The company’s website shows Langehans was a member of the video team, responsible for videotaping jumps at the request of customers. He also was part of the accelerated free-fall progression team, a 16-jump program designed to bolster free-falling and canopy parachuting skills for newer divers.

“He’s a fine and safe jumper,” said Burke Fitzpatrick, special programs manager at the state Department of Public Safety and a skydiver. “He was ... well respected for being a safe, personally conservative jumper as far as the way he handled his skydives.”

Fitzpatrick said he met Langehans a few years after Fitzpatrick began diving in 1978. They often saw each other at various skydiving centers around the state.

Langehans, a tenured law enforcement professional, started working for the S.C. Highway Patrol in 1978, said Florence McCants, spokeswoman for the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy. In 1990, he began work at the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services until he returned to the Department of Public Safety for five years in 1995.

During that time, he worked in the department’s office of professional responsibility, acting as an internal affairs officer investigating claims of trooper misconduct, Fitzpatrick said.

“He’s a law enforcement officer through and through,” said Fitzpatrick, adding Langehans was “very, very serious” about his professional career and “no-nonsense” on the job.

In 2000, Langehans took a job as the associate deputy director at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, where he oversaw the academy’s day-to-day operations until he retired in 2003.

Off duty, Langehans “was fun to be around and easy going with a great sense of humor,” Fitzpatrick said. But, even at work, “you didn’t meet up with him ... without coming away with a little laugh or chuckle.”

During one jump at Skydive Carolina, Fitzpatrick was attached to a fledgling skydiver who flailed his arms and kicked his legs as they jumped out of the plane and free-fell about 115 mph. Langehans, a videographer for Skydive Carolina, jumped with them.

“I forgot I’m on video and the expression on my face was not apparently what we want to show the student,” Fitzpatrick said while chuckling. “I look up and Pete ... about 6 feet in front of me ... he’s got the biggest grin on his face, enjoying my discomfort.”

Langehans often mentored younger divers, Fitzpatrick said, but also “gently” shared pearls of wisdom with his more-experienced peers who might have been “getting reckless or too bold.”

“They knew if Pete Langehans was giving some advice about skydiving,” he said, they should listen.

Funeral information was unavailable Monday.

Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082

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