Film delves into life of Lost Prairie skydiving pioneer

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Joan Carson is pictured in a hangar at Lost Prairie.

It’s been nearly 33 years since Joan Carson plummeted 8,000 feet to her death in a skydiving accident at Lost Prairie west of Kalispell.

The story of her life and what drove her passion for skydiving remain alive, however, in a new film produced by one of her high school classmates.

Paul Gorman of Rain City Cinema in Seattle has produced “Ride the Sky,” which will premiere at the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest this morning. The film includes interviews with Carson’s fellow skydivers in the 1970s, including veteran skydiver Fred Sand, who has operated Skydive Lost Prairie for decades.

Sand met Carson during the winter of 1976 in Medford, Ore., and recalls her as “bubbly” with lots of energy, as he’s interviewed for the film.

Carson came to the Kalispell area in the late 1970s and helped create the skydiving facility at Lost Prairie. She was 30 when she died during a jump over Memorial Day weekend in 1981.

“The news of her death shocked me,” Gorman said. “It was one of those events that stay with you the rest of your life.”

He found himself compelled to find out what drove Carson to continue skydiving even after two serious skydiving accidents.

She broke both her arms in one of the mishaps.

“I was curious why she would continue doing something that caused her so much pain,” he said.

Gorman and Carson attended the same high school in Redmond, Wash. He remembers her as a “fairly good student,” a cheerleader who was popular and outgoing. They stayed in touch after high school and he stayed with her in San Francisco for a few days during the year Carson began skydiving.

After learning that while in her 20s, Carson and several of her skydiving friends had built their own airfield, hangar and skydive center in the wilds of Montana, Gorman’s interest was piqued.

“I was impressed with her accomplishments and adventurous spirit,” he said. “The fact that Joan would follow her passion from the safety of the suburbs of Redmond to the sophistication of San Francisco, then to the wilderness in Montana ... convinced me that her story was bigger than my own personal interest and it had universal appeal,” Gorman said.

“Ride The Sky” retraces Carson’s life beginning with her time in Montana and working its way backward, digging into Carson’s past and the events that motivated her.

“The film is structured in the same order in which we filmed it and the audience can experience the story as we did,” said Gorman. “My quest was to answer what motivated her. There was something intrinsic about why she kept going and that becomes the driving force of the film.

“There definitely are some surprises along the way and questions answered, but with some new questions raised. The cause of her mishap remains a mystery,” he said.

Gorman plans to be in Polson for the premiere of his movie. He also plans to enter “Ride the Sky” in the Seattle International Film Festival and other similar festivals.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at


Joan Carson helps break ground for the Lost Prairie airstrip.

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