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Man injured in jet pack accident

March 18, 2014|By Jill Cowan

A man was briefly knocked unconscious Friday afternoon when he plummeted from the air and crashed into a piece of floating equipment during a water-propelled jet pack flight in Newport Harbor, officials said.

The man — who has not been identified by authorities but was described as being in his 40s — was taken to nearby Hoag Hospital, where he was treated for a minor concussion and received eight stitches on his forehead, according to Dean O'Malley, president of Newport Beach-based Jetpack America, which was operating the flight.

Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol deputies and Newport Beach Fire Department paramedics responded to initial reports of a collision off the beach near 18th Street at about 12:15 p.m., authorities said.

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The man, O'Malley said, shot up and backward after accelerating too quickly, so an on-the-ground flight instructor remotely cut the throttle, sending the man falling back toward the water.

On his way down, O'Malley said, the man hit a small boat connected to the jet pack, which operates by sucking up water through a pump and hose system then shooting it out at a high power, lifting fliers into the air.

O'Malley said he couldn't say exactly how high the man got before he fell, though he said staff members estimated it was "a few feet out of the water."

First-time pilots are not allowed to fly on their own outside of a training simulator, O'Malley explained, but the man was on his second flight with the company and had opted to control the jet pack himself.

O'Malley stressed that the company, which has offered jet pack flights to tourists and local thrill-seekers since 2011, places safety as its "No. 1 concern."

Jetpack America's Newport headquarters are home to the burgeoning sport's only "certified academy" outside of Florida, where the devices are manufactured, O'Malley said. Instructors and medical staff members are on-hand for every flight, he added.

That being said, he added, there are "inherent risks" involved.

While O'Malley said during a 2012 interview that ideal cruising height is 2 to 5 feet, the contraption can send pilots soaring as high as 30 feet above the water.

Still, Friday's incident was rare, O'Malley said.

"This is the only time we've had to call 911," he said. "Usually the worst injury is bruised egos, from people trying to go higher than we get to go."

According to Jetpack America's website, a premium hourlong "James Bond Flight Experience" costs $699, and a 15-minute flight for beginners costs $179.

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