Skydiver may have undone parachute to commit suicide

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Detectives studying video footage of a skydiver's last moments as he plunged more than 13,000ft to his death during a competition said yesterday they suspected he had killed himself.

Detectives studying video footage of a skydiver's last moments as he plunged more than 13,000ft to his death during a competition said yesterday they suspected he had killed himself.

Alastair McLaren, 39, was one of 15 competitors taking part in the Scottish National parachute championship at Strathallan airfield in Perthshire on Sunday. He was among a team of 15 who took to the air in a Dornier G92 plane at 9.15pm for the final jump of the day after completing several jumps over the weekend.

But, after exiting the aircraft, Mr McLaren was seen to lose his main and reserve chutes and plunge to his death.

Yesterday, officers from Tayside Police were studying video footage of the fatal jump to try to establish exactly how the experienced skydiver became detached from both his chutes.

A spokeswoman said they were working on the theory that the father of two children from Longniddry, East Lothian, had committed suicide and confirmed that they were not treating his death as suspicious.

Kieran Brady, chairman of Skydive Strathallan, said Mr McLaren had completed between 800 to 1,000 jumps during his career.

Fellow skydivers at Strathallan, which has more than 10,000 successful parachute jumps a year, were at a loss yesterday to explain how the incident could have happened. Harnesses holding a skydiverto his chute have a back-up mechanism, and, under a "buddy" system, each jumper should check other skydivers are securely fastened in their harness.

"This was not a tragic accident but is very sad," Kieran Brady, chairman of the Perthshire-based Skydive Strathallan, said. He said there was no suggestion of an equipment failure. Mr Brady added: "He was quite a friendly chap who was very easy to talk to but he had his problems."

Witnesses said they saw that Mr McLaren wasn't wearing his parachute at 9,500ft, but police say other witnesses saw him "part with it" at 2,500ft.

His body was discovered by sniffer dogs on farmland about 800m from the airfield.

Mr Brady said Mr McLaren jumped from the plane at 13,500ft but was separated from his parachute between 8,000ft and 9,000ft. "Police are looking at video footage taken by his friend," he said. "It shows that he became detached from his parachuting equipment."

Mr McLaren's friends said they suspected his death could have been suicide after it emerged that just hours before the jump he had split up with his 19-year-old girlfriend. He had recently left his wife, Fiona, and their two teenage children for the girl.

Police said the death did not appear to be suspicious and that a report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal's office.

Mr McLaren's death brings the worldwide total number of fatalities from parachute jumps to 19 so far this year.

Last year, skydiver Stephen Hilder died during a jump at Hibaldstow airfield in north Lincolnshire. After at first suspecting murder, police now believe he committed suicide by cutting the straps to his own parachutes.

The deaths of the two men have fuelled fears of copycat suicide attempts.