Skydivers die as parachutes become entangled in mid-air after display

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The Independent Online

Two skydivers died when their parachutes became entangled during a formation display.

Brian Laithwaite, 65, and Emma Bramley, 31, were parachuting at Langar Airfield in Nottinghamshire on Friday afternoon when the accident happened. They were using separate parachutes when they became tangled, causing them to fall to the ground at speed.

>Mr Laithwaite, from Wigan in Lancashire, and Ms Bramley, from Nottingham, were both described as experienced parachutists. The accident happened at 3.30pm on Friday. Nottinghamshire Police has launched an investigation, but said the deaths were not believed to be suspicious.

The pair were part of a 14-strong group which set off at 3pm on Friday afternoon in a Cessna plane from the airfield, 10 miles south east of Nottingham.

They had flown to 13,500ft before Ms Bramley and Mr Laithwaite jumped out in a six-man group to perform a number of formations above the ground. The plan was to split off at between 2,800ft and 3,500ft so that each jumper would have enough room to deploy their parachute safely.

It was then that Ms Bramley deployed her main parachute which then became tangled with Mr Laithwaite's body. He remained above her, with his own canopy fully open as they fell towards the ground, at what is thought to have been a survivable speed.

People on the ground saw the drama unfolding and hoped both would only suffer injuries, but at about 100ft they seemed to accelerate through the air and both were killed once they landed.

Dave Hickling, managing director of British Parachute Schools at the airfield, said it was impossible for them to disentangle the parachute and deploy their reserves safely.

He said: "The sequence of events is that Emma's parachute collided with Brian's body. If that had been a simple collision, Emma's job, if she couldn't clear herself, would have been to open her reserve system and release her main parachute.

"But for some reason, part of Emma's reserve system and part of Brian's reserve deployment system had been activated. It was a no-win situation.

"They continued until about 100ft above the ground when Brian's parachute, for a reason unknown to me, seemed to change its attitude and accelerate towards the ground. It was that landing which resulted in the fatalities."

He added: "I thought it possible that they would suffer bad injuries. It has been known for two people to land on one parachute and both survive. It was one of those freaky, unfortunate incidents. It was one of those entanglements that you just couldn't get out of.

"I am devastated by it, devastated. But it's what skydivers do. It's like riding a racing bike, or skiing down a black slope. Anything that causes death or injury is unjust but it is not totally unexpected because you know there is a likelihood of it happening."

The inquest into their deaths will open at Nottingham Coroner's Court today.