Murdered skydiver had his parachute cords cut, say police

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The Independent Online

The parachute cords of a skydiver who plunged 13,000ft to his death had been deliberately cut, police investigators said yesterday.

Stephen Paul Hilder, 20, died after his main and reserve chutes failed to open as he took part in a jump at Hibaldstow airfield near Brigg, North Lincolnshire, on Friday.

Humberside Police has opened an inquiry into the murder of Mr Hilder, who had completed more than 200 jumps and was considered an experienced skydiver.

Mr Hilder, an officer cadet from Hereford and member of Bristol University Skydive Club, was found in a cornfield near the airstrip. He had died of multiple injuries. His death was filmed by some of the 70 spectators who had come to watch an annual student parachuting competition.

A forensic examination found the cord of the main chute and the strapping on the reserve chute, which he had brought to the tournament himself, had been severed.

Detective Superintendent Colin Andrews said he was certain that the cords had been "deliberately tampered with" but added: "What we need to find out is who did that and for what reason. One thing we have to consider is that this was a random act and Stephen was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The equipment had been checked on Wednesday, in preparation for his skydive, and kept in a store that was locked at night.

Dave Hickling, chief instructor with the British Parachute School, at Langar airfield, near Nottingham, said someone with a rudimentary knowledge of parachutes would know which cords to cut to render a parachute useless. "Once you have been on a basic parachute course and you have seen how the parachute deploys, you would have enough knowledge," he said.

Paul Hollow, chief instructor at Target SkySports, which runs parachuting at the airfield where the competition took place, said the pilot of Mr Hilder's aircraft had not seen anything suspicious. "If the pilot had noticed anything odd, he would have immediately stopped and found out what was happening because safety is absolutely paramount in this sport," he said.

A statement from Mr Hilder's family said he had been a "wonderful son and brother, whose place in this very close-knit family will never be filled".

On the night before his jump, Mr Hilder was at a fancy-dress party at the airfield. Police are appealing to other partygoers for information or any video footage or photographs of the night.

Another member of the club died in a skydive incident just over two weeks ago.

Eleonora "Leo" Baker, the club's social secretary, died as a result of injuries after colliding with Sam Heyman, a university student, less than 100ft from the ground. But police said the circumstances around the two incidents were entirely different and were not linked.