'I was waiting for a signal,' says skydiver who forgot to pull the cord – and lived

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The Independent Online

As James Boole hovered in a helicopter 2,000m above the frozen steppes of eastern Russia, he had little idea that he was about to join the small but incredibly fortunate band of skydivers who have survived a descent without their parachute opening.

The veteran skydiver from Staffordshire had already made more than 2,500 jumps. He was calm and fully prepared for the astonishing thrill that comes with hurtling towards the ground, safe in the knowledge that his parachute would help him land safely.

Except this time there was one small problem. While he was concentrating on filming, his dive partner was supposed to be keeping a close eye on the rapidly approaching ground. But as the crucial moment approached the signal from his friend to draw his parachute failed to get through and Mr Boole slammed into the snow covered rocks at 100mph.

Remarkably, despite a broken back, a punctured lung and several broken ribs, the 31–year–old survived his ordeal. Recuperating at his home in Tamworth, Staffordshire, he recalled the moment he realised he had survived. "What went through my mind was my wife and daughter," he said. "I really thought I was going to die."

A self–confessed adrenaline junkie, Mr Boole had flown to eastern Russia to film a documentary about one of the most extreme forms of sky diving – "wingsuit base jumping".

Unlike standard dives, where jumpers release their parachutes far above the ground and float gently down to earth, Mr Boole prefers the base jumper ethos, where practitioners open their chute at the last minute to maximise their freefall time. He was also wearing a wingsuit – a specially designed bodysuit which allows jumpers to "fly" as they hurtle towards earth. In the right conditions, for every metre that a jumper falls while wearing a wingsuit they are also able to travel up to three metres forward.

Fellow skydivers yesterday reacted with amazement that he had survived his fall. Robert Pecnik, the Croatian inventor of the wingsuit and a close friend of Mr Boole, told The Independent: "It's an absolute miracle that he is alive. When I watched the video of his fall I thought that it would be impossible to survive something like that."

Mr Boole is more than aware of how lucky he is. "When I finally looked at the ground and realised how low I was, I knew there was no time for me to get a parachute above my head," he said. "For the first 48 hours after the accident I thought maybe I am dead and this is some kind of after–life limbo, or some other reality, because I couldn't make sense of it – how was I still here to come through this?"

It is generally considered the responsibility of the person being filmed to indicate to their partner when to open the shoot but for some reason the message didn't get through. Had Mr Boole landed on anything other than thick powdery snow he would almost certainly be dead.

"Somehow he managed to hit the snow perfectly, at just the right angle to disperse the impact," said Mr Pecnik. "The slightest change of direction and he would have died. I've been diving for many years and you do occasionally lose people, it's a dangerous sport. But it is particularly hard when it happens to someone you know. But then that's the risk skydivers take."

Mr Boole's wife Kristina, who also skydives, said she hoped her husband might think about quitting. "For the moment I'm thinking just of him to recover, so not about jumping or anything like that," she said. "But yeah, [I] would like him to stop doing that."