Man survives 13,000ft fall as parachute fails

Liam Dunne’s reserve parachute opened automatically at 750ft, which was far too late
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The Independent Online

A skydiver who survived a 13,000ft fall when he landed on boggy ground has given an interview from his hospital bed, describing the fall as "not nice".

Liam Dunne, a father-of-two originally from St Annes near Blackpool, Lancashire, crashed in front of spectators at the Good Vibes skydiving festival in New Zealand after his reserve parachute failed to open in time.

"Those last 1,000ft it was like 'here we go, this is it'," said Mr Dunne. "It wasn't nice. But that said, it was a one in a million accident and a one in a million save. Skydiving is an awesome sport, and I've done 4,000 jumps and never had a problem."

Mr Dunne, 35, had surgery for a broken back after the fall at Motueka on New Zealand's South Island. Doctors have told him he will walk again after having his vertebrae pinned and undergoing spinal therapy, although he is expected to spend another three months in hospital.

The dramatic survival story began when he leapt from a plane at 13,000ft but went into an uncontrollable spin. Ditching his main chute he struggled to reach the handle for the reserve. It opened automatically 750ft above the ground but by that time it was too late to avoid the inevitable. "I just braced for the impact," he said.

"Luckily I hit the softest patch of ground on the airfield," he said. "I bounced hard and my whole left side went numb. It felt like I had broken every bone in my body, and I couldn't breathe. I was just sitting there dying.

"My friend landed next to me and she said: 'You're all right, you can breathe'. She looked at my leg and said: 'Look, it's still there, it's not deformed or anything'. She was with me the whole time. Then the ambulance came and filled me with drugs.

"I probably ought to be dead the speed I hit. It is early days so I am trying to focus on the positives. Chances are I am going to walk again. The fact I am alive is what I need to hold on to."

Mr Dunne, who emigrated to New Zealand with his family in 2005 and who runs a skydiving jumpsuit and equipment company, has surprised doctors with the speed of his recovery after the accident two weeks ago.

He said he had been overwhelmed by well-wishers. "The hardest part is a horrible feeling of utter dependence. But I am totally and utterly blown away by all the messages of love and support," he said.

Onlookers described watching him bounce "several times" on hitting the soft, waterlogged ground at high speed – narrowly avoiding the tarmac of the runway at the airport where 120 daredevils were taking part in the event. His body left a deep impression in the ground, it was reported.

The New Zealand Parachute Industry Association has launched an investigation into the accident, which happened in near perfect conditions. Investigators will analyse the equipment used by Mr Dunne during the ill-fated jump.

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