National Guard airman dies in snowboarding fall at NJ mall

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — A man who was serving in the Air National Guard died after he fell while snowboarding at an indoor ski park inside a New Jersey mall, officials and family members said.

Peter Mathews, 24, of Bay Shore on New York’s Long Island, fell Dec. 8 as he snowboarded at the Big Snow American Dream, which is within the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, his family told Newsday.

Mathews fell backward, hit his head, became unconscious and had trouble breathing, his sister, Sarah Mathews, told the newspaper.

After CPR was performed at the mall, Mathews was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, his sister said.

Mathews was an airman first class in the Maryland Air National Guard, which he joined in 2020. He had hoped to become a commercial airline pilot, Sarah Mathews said.

Mathews was wearing a helmet and other safety gear when he fell and had no underlying health problems his family was aware of, his sister said.

Big Snow American Dream is an indoor skiing and snowboarding facility within the mall at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. It opened in 2019 and is the first indoor ski park in North America. Skiing stars including Lindsey Vonn attended its grand opening event.

In a statement, Big Snow said: “We can confirm that our ski patrol responded to a guest incident last Thursday evening. First aid was administered, and the guest was transported to a hospital for further care. Our thoughts are with this guest’s family at this time.”

Beno Varghese, a friend who was with Mathews at the mall, told Newsday that Mathews suffered what at first looked like a routine fall. “I saw him on the ground. I ran up and he was already unconscious,” Varghese said.

Varghese said he and other friends who had gone to the indoor ski facility together gathered in a circle and prayed as medical personnel tried to keep Mathews alive.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Galabiehs, the senior enlisted leader of the 175th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said Mathews was recently awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal for his accomplishments during exercises in eastern Europe. Mathews had mobilized with the Air Force unit to help with the exercises.

“If you had a chance to talk to him, you knew instantly he had a remarkable future and was destined for greatness,” Galabiehs said in a statement.

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