By Maurice Tamman
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (Reuters) - A member of the U.S. Navy's elite skydiving demonstration team plunged to his death on Sunday when his parachute malfunctioned while performing in an aerial exhibition as part of New York Harbor's annual Fleet Week festival.
U.S. Coast Guard personnel pulled the parachutist from the water near the mouth of the Hudson River moments after the accident, witnessed by thousands of spectators watching the show from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.
The skydiver, a Navy SEAL commando performing as a member of the U.S. Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs, was pronounced dead at the Jersey City Medical Center, Rear Admiral Jack Scorby told a news conference outside the hospital.
The parachutist's identity was being publicly withheld pending notification of his family.
The skydiver and other team members were conducting a jump into Liberty State Park when his "parachute failed to open properly and he landed in the water" adjacent to the park, Scorby said.
The admiral offered no further explanation about the cause of the accident except to say the parachute "malfunctioned." Eyewitnesses said the skydivers jumped from helicopters.
The Leap Frogs were performing as part of Fleet Week, a weeklong showcase that brings dozens of U.S. warships and thousands of service members to the New York City area every year.
The parachute team comprises active-duty Navy SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen and support personnel. It is sanctioned by the Defense Department and recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to its website.
Bjoern Kils, 37, of Jersey City, was watching the event from a boat when he saw three Leap Frogs jump from a helicopter, complete their aerial maneuvers and land.
"Almost the same time that they touched down in Liberty State Park we heard a splash and turned around very quick. I saw the water splash, and apparently there was a fourth parachutist," said Kils, who runs charter boats.
Kils recounted seeing emergency responders pull a man from the water and attempt to render cardiopulmonary resuscitation. "He was just limp in the water," he said.
Rich Collins, 59, a retired banker who was watching the show from a nearby marina, said he saw several parachutists make a jump, one with an American flag attached to an ankle, then saw two others higher up, "and one of them seemed not to have his chute."
(Additional reporting by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing and additional reporting in Los Angeles by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Cooney and David Gregorio)