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Briton dies after 'heart attack' during skydive

Sam Reeves
Saturday 09 August 2008 00:00 BST

A British holidaymaker died from a suspected heart attack during a 12,500ft parachute jump in Spain, it was revealed last night.

Andrew Bearne, 39, was on a course at a parachute school in the town of Ocana, south of Madrid, when the accident happened.

He jumped from a plane at about midday on Wednesday, accompanied by two instructors, and the jump appeared to be going well. For the first part of the jump, known as accelerated freefall, both instructors were holding on to their student.

After falling 7,000ft, Mr Bearne opened his parachute and began to float to earth. One of the instructors, who were both British, landed before his student and was guiding him over a radio.

Mr Bearne responded well at first but, at about 1,000ft from the surface – with one minute of the five-minute jump remaining – he suddenly appeared to lose consciousness.

He had been taking the course at skydive school Aerolibre after previous attempts at the sport in the UK. David Cowman, one of the managers of the school, said: "He was following the guidance perfectly but, at 1,000ft, Andrew turned away from the target landing area and became slumped in his harness.

"He hung forward, his head was bowed, and his arms were hanging straight down.

"The instructor repeated his instruction to the student to turn left, to come back to the zone. There was no response."

Mr Bearne did not react to repeated requests from his teacher and continued to float in a straight line until he landed at some distance from the intended spot.

Two agricultural workers who witnessed him land said he appeared to have come to earth softly, Mr Cowman said.

A search team was immediately dispatched, along with an emergency helicopter from Madrid, and the on-site doctor.

Mr Cowman, speaking from Spain, said: "The doctor pronounced him dead on the scene.

"There was no physical evidence, there were no bones broken. There wasn't a mark on him."

The doctor said his injuries appeared consistent with a heart attack, Mr Cowman added. No results from a post-mortem examination have yet been released.

Mr Cowman said: "We would like to extend out heartfelt condolences to Yvonne, his mum, and Mike, his brother. They are in our prayers. We do not see at this point anything that as an organisation we could have done."

The school stopped skydiving on the day of the accident.

Initial police investigations suggested none of the equipment used in the dive was faulty and jumps resumed the following day.

Mr Cowman described Mr Bearne as an active man, who also liked scuba diving. He had been skydiving in the UK but stopped two years previously and the course in Spain was his attempt to get back into the sport.

He arrived in Spain on Tuesday and completed a ground school refresher course the day before the jump, which was his first of the course.

He was in a group of around 10 British and Irish students.

Mr Cowman added: "We've been going for six years as a skydiving school and we've never experienced a fatality."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We were informed of the death on 7 August. Next of kin have been informed and consular assistance is being provided."

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