A day after Lee Sanford Hulett died doing what he loved doing most -- jumping out of airplanes strapped into a parachute -- friends and relatives reminisced about his love of risk.
Mr. Hulett, 70, of Columbia's Kings Contrivance village, died Sunday after his parachute failed to open in the skies over Hanover, Pa., on his fourth jump of the day.
A World War II paratrooper who made more than 1,400 jumps, he returned to Europe last year to jump on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Parachute jumping was his love, his addiction, his reason for living, friends and relatives said.
"He always said he'll jump till he dies," said James A. Smith, operator of The Sky Divin' Place in Hanover, who was with Mr. Hulett on his third jump of the day.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating Mr. Hulett's death to determine whether the parachute was faulty or whether he died of natural causes. "We don't know at this point why the chute didn't open," said Lorraine Carra, an FAA spokeswoman.
According to the FAA and relatives, Mr. Hulett and two other Sky Divin' Place sky divers jumped out of a Cessna-180 at 10,000 feet shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday, and made a three-point formation. At 5,000 feet, the trio separated to deploy their parachutes. Mr. Hulett's parachute did not open; the others' did.
"They saw him grab his chest, and he went all the way" down, said his son, Lloyd Hulett, who said his father always had confidence in his abilities and equipment.
JTC Known as a meticulous sky diver, instructor and jump master, the elder Mr. Hulett also was known for his keen sense of humor -- jumping naked at nudist conventions and dressed as Santa Claus on other occasions.
"He was full-throttle, all the way in his life," said the younger Mr. Hulett. He recalled his father saying that if he died in a sky diving accident he'd have "a smile on his face. That's exactly what happened. He went the way he wanted."
The elder Mr. Hulett, who also sold insurance part-time, was enthusiastic about sky diving, friends said, and that was evident a company picnic at Cascade Lake in Hampstead in the summer 1994. "I can remember him in the last 100 feet of his jump, he was hooting and hollering all the way down," recalled Mr. Hulett's supervisor, David Griffin, district manager at Baltimore Life Insurance Co. in Westminster. "It was something he loved."
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Hulett was introduced to sky diving when he was drafted into the Army in 1943. After basic training, he attended jump school in Fort Benning, Ga. He worked as a demolition specialist in the 517th Parachute Infantry, blowing up bridges and main roads in World War II.
As a frightened young man of 18, Mr. Hulett once recalled to a reporter, he landed miles off course on his first jump over France -- on the roof of a German officers' barracks. His right leg ripped through the roof; he quickly fired off a clip of ammunition into the building and got away.
Although he did not jump on D-Day, Mr. Hulett fought in Italy before jumping in southern France on Aug. 5, 1944.
He received a Bronze Star on Oct. 1, 1985 -- exactly 10 years before his death.
After the war, Mr. Hulett graduated from Ohio State University, where he got his bachelor's and master's degrees in physical education and education, respectively. His fraternity brothers nicknamed him "The Bird" because of his sky-diving skills and the shape of his nose, Lloyd Hulett said.
He did not jump again until 1982, when he and his son, Lloyd, took a class at Westpoint, Va. He became an avid sky diver, jumping every weekend at various airports.
Mr. Hulett's most notable jump was last year when he and 39 other World War II veterans returned to France to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
In August, Mr. Hulett went on to jump at a V-J Day celebration in Australia, and in May he jumped in Moscow at V-E Day festivities. A friend was killed at that event, and Mr. Hulett poured a toast to him on the spot.
"He wore a lot of his original uniform," said Guy Whidden, a Frederick resident and one of the veterans who traveled to Europe with Mr. Hulett for the D-Day anniversary.
Pained by the loss of a comrade, Mr. Whidden said that "jumping meant an awful lot to Lee. He used to say he was almost addicted to it.
"I guess most of us don't want to die in a nursing home," Mr. Whidden said. "We prefer to die this way than linger in a nursing home."
Mr. Hulett is survived by two daughters, Louisa S. Hulett, of Gailsburg, Ill., and Leah S. Hulett Man, of Odenton, Md.; two sons, Lee Sanford Hulett Jr., of Culver City, Calif., and Lloyd Hulett, of Ellicott City; two stepchildren, Sharon Fitzpatrick, of Olney, Md., and Kathryn Perta, of Utica, N.Y.; and 10 grandchildren. He was divorced twice.
Funeral arrangements were not final as of yesterday, but Lloyd Hulett, said he will be buried at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.
His family asks that donations be sent to the Disabled American Veterans, the Rockville Chapter, Post 12, 127 Water St., Gaithersburg, Md. 20877.