GREENFIELD — There was something about the wind rushing past that captivated Donald Hauck.
If he wasn’t pushing through the air on one of his motorcycles, he was punching through the sky in a free fall, enjoying the ride until he had to pull the cord and deploy his parachute for the glide to the ground.
Either way, the snapping of the wind punctuated Hauck’s life – even to the final moments.
In an unexpected turn of events Sunday, Hauck, 50, died after a sharp, low-altitude maneuver resulted in a hard landing in a field outside Franklin in Johnson County.
The Greenfield resident died at the scene.
“He loved life,” said his son, Joshua, 29, who made the jump with his father Sunday. “His kids were number one in his heart, and I knew that was the last thing that went through his mind as I held him.”
The owner of the flying school at Franklin Field, Richard Money, said Hauck misjudged his altitude and performed the maneuver too close to the ground. That kept the parachute from working properly, Money said.
Such maneuvers typically are done at an altitude of 500 to 1,000 feet. Hauck made two low-altitude turns, one at 100 feet and another at 75 feet, and hit the ground after the second turn, Money said.
Hauck, who had made more than 100 jumps before Sunday, simply didn’t realize how low he was, Money said.
“He was a very safe skydiver,” Money said. “He didn’t do anything reckless. He just misjudged while skydiving and paid the ultimate price.”
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office completed its investigation into Hauck’s death, and provided copies of its report to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA also inspected Hauck’s parachute, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
Those who knew him say Hauck was a loving father; a thrill-seeker; and a man of faith. He also had a mischievous streak.
“He was ornery,” said Maria Borgman of Greenfield, who knew Hauck for 30 years. “He could aggravate you, and he had a good time doing it. But no matter how mad he made you, he’d just give you that smile.”
Born in the small, southwest Michigan town of Gobles, Hauck moved to Greenfield as a teen, where he finished high school at Greenfield-Central.
His ever-present smile seemed to signal he knew something others didn’t.
“His mind was always going,” said Tracie Myers, who grew up with Hauck in Gobles. “He was a very fun-loving person. From 5 years old, he was about being happy.”
“He had a silver tongue,” Joshua said. “Those wheels never stopped turning from the day his mother brought him into this world.”
“He was an adrenaline junky,” Borgman said with a laugh. “He had no fear. I got on a (motorcycle) with him 30 years ago, and I was slapping him all the way.”
Added Joshua: “It was either his maroon Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide or his blue Softail Heritage. He’d typically ride his Softail.”
In March, it was Joshua who rode the Softail with Hauck on the Electra Glide on a 2,000-mile round-trip journey to Bike Week in Daytona, Fla., followed by a day of skydiving for Hauck’s 50th birthday.
“He loved the freedom,” Myers said. “He loved to feel the wind against his face.”
“He was spontaneous,” Joshua said. “You never knew what was going to happen next.”
But friends and family say there was much more to Hauck than finding the next thrill.
“He was always willing to do whatever he could to bring a smile to your face,” Myers said. “If half the world was as nice as Donald, the world would be a lot nicer.”
Those who knew him said away from the bikes and the sky and the wind, Hauck’s focus was on his seven children and God.
“He had a love of his children and a love of God,” Borgman said. “His children were number one.”
It was just that focus that makes Sunday’s events so hard to fathom, Joshua said. Though he enjoyed life on the edge, Hauck was not one to take unnecessary risks that would jeopardize his life with those he loved most.
“It was a split-second decision; it was tragic,” he said. “It’s hard on us all.”
Family and friends Monday continued to sort through and try to make sense of Sunday’s events.
And though there were more questions than answers, one thing was certain: Right to the very end, Donald Hauck lived his life with the wind rushing past his face.
“One of the last things he said to me,” Joshua said, “was, ‘Son, I would rather die doing something I love rather than arrive at my death sitting on the couch and say that I arrived safely.”
Some information in this story came from the Daily Journal in Johnson County.