FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. (AP) – An experienced parachutist who jumped from a bridge to his death at a popular festival may have deployed his parachute late, a county sheriff said Sunday.

Investigators will continue to examine the fatal incident, but witness accounts indicate Brian Lee Schubert’s death Saturday was caused by the partial or late deployment of his chute, Fayette County Sheriff Bill Laird said.

Schubert, 66, died of injuries suffered when he hit the water 876 feet below the New River Gorge Bridge during the annual Bridge Day festival, said Laird.

Thousands of people attending the festival watched the fatal jump. Witnesses said Schubert’s chute didn’t open until about 25 feet above the water. Jumping continued after his body was taken away.

Investigators will ask for video footage and photos from the media this week, Gary Hartley, chief ranger at the New River Gorge National River, said Sunday.

Schubert, of Alta Loma, Calif., had been well known in the sport of BASE jumping since 1966, when he and a friend became the first people to jump from El Capitan, a nearly 3,000-foot-tall rock formation, in California’s Yosemite National Park.

The sport’s acronym stands for the places jumpers usually leap from: buildings, antennae, spans and earth.

Schubert, a former police lieutenant, retired from the Pomona, Calif., police department in 1989.

“He was a well-respected lieutenant here for a number of years,” Lt. Mark Warm told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, Calif. “He retired and started his own private investigation business.”

The fatality is the first since 1987 at Bridge Day, which typically draws an estimated 100,000 spectators and about 400 parachutists to the southern part of the state. Since 1981, there have been at least 100 BASE jump fatalities around the world, according to the World BASE Fatality List, a Web site maintained by a BASE jumper.

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