Exact risk patterns in skydiving fatalities are not well known, but incomplete world injury data indicate that many are preventable. A comprehensive national material for Sweden of 37 skydiving fatalities 1964-2003 were reviewed to identify risk factors. In relation to jump volume, the period 1994-2003 had a fatality rate 11 times lower than 1964-1973. Student skydivers had the highest risk of fatal outcome, often caused by instability in freefall leading to unstable parachute activation with subsequent line entanglement, or parachute activation failure. Unintentional water landings also contributed to student fatality, with life jacket malfunctions, neglect to use life jackets, and automatic reserve parachute activation devices activated by water as aggravating factors. One-third of all fatalities had an inflated and operational parachute at some point prior to injury. A drastic worldwide increase in fatal landing incidents with fast wing parachutes during the 1990s did not occur in Sweden. Every fourth fatality caused by rapid deceleration against ground or water survived impact and died during transports or in hospitals. Rescue units and health care providers can improve management of skydiving incidents from knowledge about the incident and injury mechanisms we have described, and the skydiving community can target risk factors in preventive safety work.