PEPPERELL — The 37-year-old Mattapan ironworker who died Sunday morning while sky diving in Pepperell had recently gotten engaged, was dedicated to the sport, and had made hundreds of jumps over the years, friends and authorities said.
Daniel Pelrine died of blunt trauma from the accident, which occurred just after 11 a.m. Sunday, said John Guilfoil, a spokesman for the Pepperell Police Department. It is unclear whether an equipment malfunction led to his death, he said.
A woman who answered the phone early Sunday afternoon at Skydive Pepperell , the business that operated the sky-diving trip, said the company was not commenting at that time. No one answered when a reporter called again last night.
A small plane was parked on the narrow runway at Skydive Pepperell on Sunday evening, about a half-mile down a dusty path off Nashua Road. An open field surrounded by woods lies in front of tents and what appears to be a small hangar.
Police and employees at the scene were tight-lipped about the death, saying that family members and the company would not be giving statements Sunday. Reporters and onlookers who tried to drive up to the airport were turned back.
MaryBeth Long, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney, said her office is investigating Pelrine’s death but did not disclose any additional details Sunday night. State Police, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the state medical examiner’s office are also investigating.
Pelrine proposed to his girlfriend about six months ago, said Kris MacDonald, Pelrine’s friend of 14 years. The couple had been dating for at least five years, he said.
MacDonald, a realtor, said Pelrine bought his first real estate listing and described him as a “loyal, genuine, stand-up guy” whom people admired.
“Everyone thought highly of him,” MacDonald said.
Pelrine’s girlfriend had said she would move in with him only after they were engaged, according to MacDonald, so his proposal coincided with the purchase of an old, two-story schoolhouse on Hillsboro Road in Mattapan that had been converted into a family home.
There, the two lived with her 9-year-old son from a previous marriage. The plan was to renovate the home so that the boy could take piano lessons in one of its rooms, MacDonald said.
Pelrine recently bought a piano, said Terry Webster, an ironworker and colleague who helped him move it inside.
Pelrine also wanted to put in a garage and possibly add more rooms.
In a recent conversation, Pelrine told MacDonald that he was budgeting money for the renovation and the wedding. There was “excitement in his voice,” MacDonald said.
Despite their long friendship, MacDonald always refused Pelrine’s invitations to sky-dive.
“We joked about my fear of heights, versus his no-fear of heights,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald said Pelrine told him he had made more than 450 jumps, and shared videos he shot during jumps.
Webster recalled Pelrine’s love of sky diving in a phone interview Sunday. He said his friend told him he had jumped as many as 10 times in a day.
“He was always trying to get me to go with him,” said Webster. He said he was shocked and emotional after learning of his friend’s death.
Pelrine’s new home was a few doors down from where Webster’s mother, Julie Gonzales, lives.
After Pelrine moved in earlier this year, he was often in the yard chopping firewood. Gonzales and Webster said Pelrine was a kind man — and a very good ironworker.
“He was very nice,” Gonzales said. “He showed us all around the house and said we could come back anytime.”
Neighbors recalled seeing him play soccer with neighborhood youths at a park nearby.
In Pepperell on Sunday afternoon, Brian Beek, 47, said he often sees sky divers launch off planes above his house, about a half-mile from the airport. About two years ago, a man landed, with no injuries, in the woods behind his house on Nissitissit Lane, walked up to the porch, and asked to use a phone, Beek said.
Sometimes, he said, he can hear the wind filling up the parachutes as the sky divers glide down.
He went sky diving with Skydive Pepperell a few year ago and said they “run a good operation.”
“It’s times like this one you get bad press,” he said. “Accidents happen.”
The company has been in operation since 1991, according to its website, but sky diving has been a staple at the Pepperell airport since the 1950s.