Parachutist breaks legs in Santa stunt

ONE OF the RAF's most experienced parachutists broke his legs yesterday when he crashlanded into a football stand in a Santa Claus outfit. The crowd of 39,000 at Aston Villa's ground in Birmingham watched as Flt Sgt Nigel Rogoff hit the roof of the Trinity Road stand and then plummeted 100 feet to the ground.

The accident happened during a jump by the three-man Hawks RAF display team, who were part of the halftime entertainment at a Premiership match between Villa and Arsenal. Flt Sgt Rogoff, 39, was given medical attention by a St John's Ambulance doctor and paramedics including the Villa physiotherapist, Jim Walker.

He was taken to the City Hospital in Birmingham on a spinal board with his legs in splints and wearing an oxygen mask. Last night, his condition was said to be stable. His injuries are not life-threatening.

Flt Sgt Rogoff appeared to be heading for the designated landing spot on the pitch when he drifted to one side and caught the parapet of the stand.

Colleagues at RAF Weston-on-the-Green, Oxfordshire, described him as one of their most experienced parachutists, with 10 years of service and nearly 6,000 jumps under his belt. One said: "Nigel is an extremely competent parachutist." Sgt Paul Dunn, who was co-ordinating the display group at the Villa Park ground, said: "They all went up and jumped, and everything was going to plan, but as they neared the ground for some reason Nigel appeared to get into trouble."

Fans described the accident, which delayed the start of the second half of the match for 15 minutes. Peter Hargraves, of Halesowen, West Midlands, said: "He banged on to the stand and then fell to the ground. No one could believe it." Another witness said: "All of a sudden this body fell from the sky like a rag doll and everyone gasped with shock. The swirl of the wind seemed to take him from where I think he was meaning to land, near the centre of the pitch."

John Gregory, the Villa manager, told BBC Radio West Midlands that the players had been told about the accident at halftime. "We were very aware that something had gone tragically wrong. Our thoughts go out to his family."

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