Ouch. On Thursday, a parachutist went off course during a jump at Fort Riley, Kansas, and crashed feet first into the 1st Infantry Division's marching band. Three band members were significantly injured during the landing; video of the crash can be seen on CNN here.
This sort of accident is highly unusual and, from watching the video, seems darn near inexcusable. Modern parachutes provide a significant ability to maneuver and pick a proper landing spot (note the forward speed on the parachute in the video). The marching band was standing still and should have been easy to see from the air and avoid; furthermore, the landing field is large enough that the parachutist should have been able to avoid the crowd and land safely with only a slight change in course. Even with a risk of hitting the crowd, he should have shouted a warning to those below, but "they didn't hear anything except a brief rustling of the jumper's parachute."
The only explanation I can imagine for this is that the jumper had relatively little experience and froze when he realized he was off course. The Yahoo News article states:
Two parachutists jumped from a single-engine plane at about 6,000 feet. Keating said the second jumper's parachute lines apparently became tangled, pulling him off course.
The parachute looks to be flying properly in the video, so I suspect the jumper simply didn't know what to do when faced with an unfamiliar landing area. This is a risk that all jumpers should prepare for: know your 'outs'! When jumping, always be familiar with other possible landing areas in the region and possible obstacles on the ground.
I actually landed off the DZ during a jump this past weekend. Once my canopy was open, I knew I wouldn't make the main landing area, so I carefully weighed my choices: I could land at the very edge of the airport runway or take a more conservative landing in a field across the street. I ended up having enough time to make the edge of the runway, but I was very carefully watching my altitude and my ground speed to see if that choice was feasible.
Anyway, thankfully nobody suffered any life-threatening injuries, and I hope they make a speedy recovery.
(Note: I forgot to say h/t Karen for the newslink!)