A carefully coordinated skydive in the US almost ended in disaster on Saturday when two planes flying in formation crashed in mid-air.
Between them the aircraft were carrying nine highly-experienced skydivers, who were seconds away from jumping when the impact occurred.
Skydiving instructor Mike Robinson described the “big flash fireball” which engulfed one side of his plane at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,650 metres), when the aircrafts’ paths crossed and one came down onto the other.
The force of the impact hurled many of the skydivers from their positions on their planes’ steps, while two others still inside managed to get to the door and escape.
Mr Robinson said that as the planes hit each other, “the wing [on his aircraft] separated”.
“All of us knew we had a crash,” he said. “The wing over our head was gone, so we just left.”
Once all the skydivers were clear, the pilot of Mr Robinson’s plane was able to eject – but the danger to the whole group was not yet over.
“Looking around, we're seeing the wing that came off. We're seeing it's on fire, and there are just parts of the airplane floating in the air with us,” he said.
“We were falling faster than those parts ... So the concern was we get away from the crash area.”
He added that as he was falling, he became worried that there was only one emergency parachute –indicating an ejected pilot – in the sky with him.
He was relieved to found out later that the pilot of the second plane was able to stay with the aircraft and land it.
Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration were in the area yesterday talking to those involved, and spokesman Roland Herwig said the cause of the incident was still being investigated.
All of the skydivers were instructors or coaches and had hundreds, if not thousands, of jumps under their belts. It was Mr Robinson's 937th jump.
“We do this all the time,” he said. “We just don't know what happened for sure that caused this.”
The nine skydivers were all able to steer their parachutes to the designated landing site, near Lake Superior in Wisconsin, and at worst suffered bruises and muscle injuries. The pilot who ejected could not steer his emergency chute, and suffered some minor injuries which required medical treatment.
“It might've been a lot worse,” Mr Robinson said. “Everybody, to a person, responded just as they should, including the pilots.”
Despite the scare, he said he would not hesitate to skydive again.
“Whenever the clouds and winds allow us to be up, we'll be jumping,” he said, although the company, Skydive Superior, is now without aircraft.