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Editor’s note: Last January the 11 survivors of Skydive Superior’s midair crash seen ‘round the world told you about how it all went down ["Gone with the Wing” Blue Skies Mag issue #50, January 2014]. Totally unrelatedly, I personally ran a half marathon a few months later to raise money for a nonprofit cause; one of the members, LaNaya Bonogofsky, was also passionate about it and organized a fundraising bicycle ride to match my race. The “Miracle 11,” the nonprofit set up by the survivors, matched our fundraising efforts to the tune of $1,000 to each of our charities. We here at BSM learned the Miracle 11 has been quietly spreading the awesome like this with royalties from their crash videos the whole year.
by Mike Robinson
After the crash, all of us were sitting around in a circle on the DZ floor talking about the events of the day and sharing a few beers. Barry Sinex was the first to realize the crash essentially put our DZ out of business. We lost both airplanes (one totally destroyed and the other needing very expensive repairs) and they were only insured for liability, not collision. He recognized there was significant value in the video footage five of us had shot of the crash and aftermath, so that started the negotiations with national TV outlets. The next day (Sunday), we and the DZ owner flew to New York City at the expense of NBC. Negotiations continued Monday, and a deal was reached that afternoon; NBC would have exclusive rights to our videos for a 2-week period (it was ratings week) and they would pay us $100,000 for those rights. We also appeared on the Today Show and Dateline of that week.
We all agreed the initial $100,000 from the video rights would be a gift to the DZ to cover part of their loss of the aircraft. None of us received any of that money. It was our hope that the DZO would reinvest the money into another aircraft so we could continue jumping, and that is exactly what he did. We began jumping again at Skydive Superior April 5.
After that two-week period, there was continuing interest from production companies all over the world to use our videos. We were not equipped to handle all of the requests, and Barry found a licensing company in California that would handle all such requests on our behalf. Our group would receive 70 percent and Jukin Media would receive 30 percent of all licensing fees. The question then became, how would our group account for any money that came to us? Barry got the group’s agreement to set up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to receive the money. As such, there were strict limitations on what we could use the money for; specifically, none of us could use any of the money for personal gain. We named our company Miracle Eleven Inc., and it is organized in the State of Minnesota. (Miracle Eleven is a name given to us by the producer of Dateline.) Originally, all 12 of us made up the board of directors. Since then, some have opted out and we now have seven on the board.
To date, we have collected in the ballpark of $10,000. We are beginning to distribute the money in various ways. When you guys published on Blue Skies Magazine’s website about suicide awareness and prevention, it struck a chord with one of our members, LaNaya Bonogofsky. LaNaya has experienced losing people close to her, family and friends, to suicide. She wasn’t able to run the half marathon that Lara was using to raise donations, so she created her own fundraiser by biking a full marathon along the North Shore of Lake Superior at the same time. She got our board approval to match Lara’s fundraising totals as well as hers up to a total of $2,000. They both raised at least $1,000 each, so we contributed $1,000 to each of the charities: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education in Minnesota.
Our board discussed other ways we could donate to causes that fit within our nonprofit status and that we personally have an interest in. Each of us was allotted $500 to use for any such purpose. Barry and I pooled our money and contributed $1,000 to the National Skydiving Museum. Others are looking into providing scholarships for area high-school seniors to use in pursuing college-level education in the field of aviation. LaNaya, Amy and Dan helped buy and wrap gifts for patients at Essentia’s Children’s Hospital.
The Miracle 11 donated $750 to this, as well as $750 to the Damianno Center in Duluth and then another sum to a family that just lost their house to a fire last week. So, in summary, none of us as individuals will receive any financial gain from the money being raised; it will all be given away to others within nonprofit laws. To date, about $10,000 has been collected, $3,000 disbursed, and another $2,500 being actively worked on at this time.
Other than continuing to disburse any money we receive, our group really has no long-term goals. It’s been a year since the crash, and none of us have any interest in continuing the dynamic of living this story. We all appreciate the interest generated from people all around the world, but we’re just a bunch of skydivers who are grateful that we all lived through this midair crash, and our future goals are just to continue jumping from airplanes with our friends. We expect the interest in using the videos will decrease significantly now that a year has passed, so it is likely there will come a time where we will disburse all of our money and close the company. We’re looking forward to that day.
I guess my personal thoughts, a year later, are that it has been an interesting ride that we all wish would never have happened. Our story is really only unique in that we all survived, no one on the ground was hurt, and we had dramatic video that showed our experience. It would be a much different feeling had anyone died. We know of others who did not survive airplane crashes, and we all feel the deepest sympathies for those folks and their families and friends. The memories of those people are the ones that should endure.
About the author: Mike Robinson is a retired civil engineer, and an AFF Instructor and S&TA at Skydive Superior. He just participated in two Arizona state SOS sequential records at Skydive Arizona, the second of which was his 1,000th skydive.
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