California and federal authorities are investigating the death of a man who was reportedly taking paragliding lessons through a business owned by Utahn Dell Schanze.
The victim, Henry Ho, 48, of Windsor, Colo., was taking a lesson Wednesday in Imperial Beach, California, when he became airborne and crashed onto some rocks, causing fatal blunt force injury to his head and torso, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office said.
Dean Roberts, Imperial Beach public safety management analyst, said Monday that investigators were not sure if Ho took off on purpose, which would violate city ordinance, or was accidentally carried aloft by a sudden gust of wind.
"It's a tragedy no matter what," Roberts said. "All the drama aside, it's an unfortunate outcome."
Roberts said it appears Ho was taking lessons from an out-of-town instructor employed by Schanze's business, which is called Paraglider Mall. The instructor was reportedly staying at Schanze's condo. Schanze was purportedly not directly involved in the man's instruction, but sheriff's officials have told other media outlets that the 43-year-old Schanze was on the beach at the time.
"The investigation is ongoing," Roberts said. "We don't have an absolute assurance of what [Schanze's] role was."
Schanze did not return a call seeking comment. But in a telephone interview with Fox affiliate KSWB in San Diego, Schanze defended his school's safety record.
Roberts said he hopes to have an initial report later this week from the San Diego County Sheriff's Office, which provides the city's law enforcement protection.
"We'll be reviewing that and trying to draw some conclusions and making some decisions about further action," Robert said.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board also are investigating, according to the sheriff's office.
Roberts said Schanze who has been operating in the city for a couple of years typically rents a condo, and people come to stay there and help him operate the paraglider business.
Schanze's school provides ground training in Imperial Beach, and the class travels elsewhere when it is time to go airborne, Roberts said. Imperial Beach city ordinance allows people to complete paragliding training on the beach, but they are not allowed to fly there.
In the midst of the death investigation, city officials learned that Schanze's does not have a current business license. The license wasn't renewed in April 2012, Roberts said.
"I'm sure everyone assumed he had his license," Roberts said. "He may have assumed he had his license."
Roberts said city officials had spoken with Schanze's employees in the week leading up to the incident to ask them to relocate to a different area of the beach for public safety-related reasons.
"They were cooperating with the directions of our lifeguard and our public safety office," Roberts said.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Imperial Beach City Council passed an emergency ordinance in 2012 that banned ultralights or similar craft from taking off or landing on city property following a stunt where Schanze flew off a beachside residence and landed in the sand.
Meanwhile, Schanze is the subject of probes in Utah after a video allegedly captured him shooting a handgun while flying a powered paraglider. The video has been forwarded to federal investigators.
In another incident, a video purports to capture Schanze chasing and kicking a protected owl while flying his paraglider. The video, which does not show Schanze's face, was removed due to a copyright claim by Schanze after it went viral.