Skydiver 'may have been murdered by competitor'

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The Independent Online

The murderer of Stephen Hilder, who plunged 13,000 feet after his parachute was sabotaged, might have been a rival determined to stop him winning a competition or someone from his private life, detectives said yesterday.

Paul and Mary Hilder said they were sure someone in Britain's close-knit skydiving community knew who cut the cords on the main and reserve parachutes of their 20-year-old son. The Army officer cadet fell to his death at Hibaldstow airfield in north Lincolnshire eight days ago when the chutes failed.

In an appeal for help, his 51-year-old father said his son and two teammates had completed a successful jump two days before he was killed. Mr Hilder said: "They say it was definitely their best jump and it left them in the lead, seven points ahead of the next team. It should not have been his last jump."

Detective Superintendent Colin Andrews, leading the murder inquiry, added: "Find the motive, find the killer. I believe who did this was at Hibaldstow last week. Whether or not it was through skydiving or through some personal problem we don't yet know. But I believe that Stephen was deliberately targeted and the person who is responsible for killing him has told a third person. Something like this is a very difficult secret to keep."

A spokeswoman for Humberside Police said: "We have considered the possibility that someone carried out a murder to beat him [Mr Hilder] in the competition. This is not something we have ruled out, but we got the view from the skydiving community that it was not a competitive sport; it was the thrill of taking part that was important, not the winning."

Detectives believe the killer unpacked Mr Hilder's para-chutes, severed the cord of the main parachute and the strap on the reserve chute and then repacked them. Police said yesterday that the packing shed at the airfield was left open during the day for skydivers to check their equipment and watch videos of jumps in progress. On the day of the fatal jump, there were 78 people involved with the week-long competition, with more than 40 parachutes in the packing shed, but Mr Hilder's main chute was likely to have stood out because it was an expensive model.

Detective Superintendent Colin Andrews, the officer in charge of the inquiry, said the murderer knew what he or she was doing because there was no sign the equipment had been tampered with. He told a press conference: "It was a deliberate attack and they must have known that, when Stephen put that parachute on and jumped out of that plane, he was going to his death. I believe Stephen was deliberately targeted and the person who is responsible has told a third person.

"There is a suggestion that his death was the result of a prank that went terribly wrong. If that is the case, that person needs to come forward and contact us immediately." He added: "Find the motive and find the killer, whether or not it was through skydiving or through some personal problem, we don't yet know."

Asked to consider the possibility that Mr Hilder was the victim of a random attack, the officer said: "I sincerely hope this is not the act of a lone mad person and that it is someone who has picked on Stephen."

Mary Hilder, 51, said: "We are living through every parent's worst nightmare. Steve lit up our lives with his enthusiasm, energy, humour and physical presence. He was an ordinary, infuriating lad, and an extraordinary son. He loved life and lived it to the full, but on his terms. Above all else he loved skydiving."

She went on: "There will be things about his recent life which we don't know but whatever they are we can't begin to imagine why anyone would want to do this to him."