Most people tend to believe that when a parachute malfunction and you’re falling from several thousand feet or kilometers, you’re almost certainly going to die; but that actually isn’t always the case. Believe it or not, there are only 13 recorded deaths from skydiving jumps in the year 2018, in the United States, according to the USPA, the United States Parachute Association. While this low number may make you breathe out a sigh of relief, there is another number, one that’s likely to scare you to death, and that’s the thousands of people every year who jump from a plane, experience a malfunction, and actually manage to survive. The fact is, when a skydive goes wrong, the chances of survival are much better than the chances of death, though I’m not sure which one is more terrifying, dying on impact, or thinking you’re going to die and then being conscious while you wait for the rescuers to come to find you, both situations seem pretty bad. Here are 10 such cases of people who survived a skydiving accident.
10. Craig Stapleton:
It’s hard to believe when we hear a story like the one of 51-year-old Craig Stapleton, of California, a man who miraculously survived a skydiving accident. Having already obtained an impressive 7,000 skydiving jumps, Craig Stapleton was what we’d call an avid skydiver and clear master of his craft. In 2013, he boarded an aircraft and took to the skies to perform a flag trick with another skydiver, his partner named Katie Nelson, and that’s when he made his jump from a plane that was 2,438 meters (8,000 feet) in the air.
Nearly as soon as Stapleton went to deploy his chute, about 30 seconds after he’d already lept from the airplane which was barreling through the air at an incredible speed far above high, he recognized that something was very wrong — his main parachute deployed, but it deployed improperly. He began spinning uncontrollably and the parachute wasn’t slowing his rate of fall like it was supposed to. Thankfully, skydivers come prepared, carrying an additional reserve parachute in case the first one fails. Thinking quickly, Stapleton deployed this chute also, but the reserve parachute got caught up in the original main parachute which was twisted and turning him into a twirling human torpedo.
Looking down, a terrifying thought in itself, he saw that he was barreling toward Acampo Vineyard, where they grow grapes, and it became evidently clear that he was going to land into a field of grapes growing on iron stakes which had been erected from the dirt. “I really hope I don’t hit an iron spike because it’ll just be messy,” he thought to himself, as he resigned himself to his fate. He rolled up into a ball and prepared for impact, hoping to roll with his trajectory.
His friend, Katie Nelson was watching helplessly from above as she careened safely through the clear skies, thinking she was certainly about to watch her partner die before her very eyes. But, miraculously, when Craig hit the ground, he survived. A nearby nurse witnessed the event from the ground and thought immediately, “That’s a survivable thing.” She immediately rushed to the poor victim of the accident, expecting to see severe trauma and open wounds. Somehow, he scraped by with only a few bumps and bruises and a dislocated shoulder. Part of Stapleton’s saving grace was landing in the grape field, though he’d only landed about one meter away from the iron spikes protruding from the ground, he managed to make an impact in a soft patch of dirt for the grapevines. He was lucky to be alive, and even more amazingly, suffered no broken bones.
09. Dan Brodsky-Chenfield:
Dan Brodsky-Chenfield is a man who turned tragedy into opportunity. He was a long-time professional skydiver who would end up surviving the worst skydiving accident in world history. The jump began like any other, the group of twenty-two people boarded a small airplane for a rather ordinary skydive, on April 23rd of 1992. He had been skydiving since 1980 and was also a seasoned veteran, like Craig Stapleton.
The plane took to the skies and then, suddenly, Dan awoke. He awoke from a dream, uncertain of what had happened, but he knew something was very, very wrong. Dan couldn’t move. As it turns out, six weeks had gone by since the scheduled jump. Dan was in the hospital and was just waking up from a coma. Sixteen of the twenty-two passengers on board were dead; the rest were critically injured.
Dan would then be told, that the airplane everyone had boarded had gone down. His neck was broken, along with several other of his bones, and his skull was fractured. A lung had collapsed. He was lucky to be alive. Most of the people on board didn’t make it. The plane had malfunctioned and taken everyone down with it. Doctors treated his injuries and in time, Dan would actually go on to skydive again. He didn’t let the incident ruin him, nor did his dreams of a career.
Dan went on to give speeches and become a motivational figure, well-respected in the skydiving community. He speaks regularly about his near-death experience and his tale of overcoming in the hopes that he may inspire others to achieve and win in life against all odds. He’s one of the top competitive skydivers in the world of professional skydiving.
08. August, 2019:
In August of 2019, a woman in Canada would also experience what most of us consider to be unthinkable: she survived a skydiving accident, in an incident that can only be described as a miracle. In Quebec, the woman boarded an airplane as a solo skydiver with her parachute ready to go and took to the skies in search of a little adventure. The plane reached the appropriate altitude of 1,524 meters, approximately, or 5,000 feet when she jumped. Denis Demers was an onlooker who saw the incident happen, as the woman’s parachute did not open properly and she speeded toward the ground with alarming rapidity. Like Stapleton, her reserve parachute also failed.
The 30-year-old skydiver was careening toward the earth fast and headed right for a heavily wooded area, with no signs of stopping. She crashed into the nearby trees, which, I’m not sure if this makes the nightmarish situation better or worse, but yes, it actually happened. What’s even more insane is that she survived the fall. And even crazier than that? All of her injuries turned out to be non-life-threatening, suffering multiple broken vertebrae and other bone fractures but nothing that could kill her.
Demers, the man who’d watched the incident transpire, said simply of the incident, “It’s a miracle she survived.”
07. Michael Holmes:
25-year-old Michael Holmes, a man from New Zealand, would attempt a skydiving jump that would change his life. Most skydivers pack their parachutes carefully before they board their plane to head out for the long jump from the sky, checking their gear and equipment to assure that they’re prepared for the jump ahead. This case was no different, for Holmes, he packed his parachute and made certain it wasn’t prone to failure. Believe it or not, many skydiving accidents and fatalities can be attributed to improper packing of the parachute, rather than just a faulty chute.
The jump would take place from 4572 meters above Taupo, which is a staggering 15,000 feet above the ground. After free-falling for quite a ways, Holmes would seek to deploy his parachute at about 609 meters above the ground, or 2,000 feet, but his parachute malfunctioned. The parachute was defective and it sent him, too, spinning like a top as he swirled in circles toward the warm, hard ground. He instantly knew that he was spinning too fast to gain control of the parachute. There is a disconnect feature in modern parachutes that allow the jumper to disconnect from a malfunctioning parachute in this exact event, but when Michael tried, nothing happened — he just kept spinning toward the earth.
Thinking quickly, he took his knife and reached around in an attempt to try to cut the main parachute off so he could deploy his reserve, but no dice, he was simply spinning way too fast for that to be possible and couldn’t get an accurate glance at the main parachute. He’s running out of options. If he pulled his reserve parachute, unable to detach from the main parachute, he knew it would just deploy into the faulty main parachute-like Stapleton’s also did. At a certain point, he realized he was out of options and just pulled the reserve and hoped for the best. Imagine that feeling.
You guessed it, nothing happened. Michael Holmes was still spinning in the air. At this point, he found himself surprisingly reserved, thinking to himself, “Well, you’ve done everything you can and this is how you’ll die.” He was coming to terms with his own death and thinking about what he could message to the pair of tandem skydivers who’d jumped with him or people on the ground. He opted to wave for his own camera that he had brought with him and say, “Alright, bye.” That’s when Michael Holmes would hit the ground.
His first thought: I’m dead. He came too from a daze of confusion caused by the concussion from hitting the ground at an incredible rate and suddenly realized that he’d been knocked unconscious. He also felt slightly embarrassed. Imagine surviving a skydiving jump, near-free-fall, and the first feeling you have is one of being embarrassed.
Holmes was saved because of the fact that he landed in a blackberry bush, of all things, and that blackberry bush had broken his long fall from the sky. Note to self: when you’re falling from nearly 5,000 meters in the sky, aim for the blackberry bushes.
06. Emma Carey:
She was only 20-years-old when Emma Carey would jump from an airplane on December 26th of 2018, a day that she would remember for the rest of her life. It was a traveler’s dream, to go backpacking in beautiful Switzerland and then subsequently dive from the sky of the home of the Swiss Alps. She was just a tourist jumping tandem with an instructor and had no idea what to expect, except a little bit of adventure and some danger. This Australian native and self-professed adrenaline junkie’s trip, however, was about to turn out to be anything but ordinary.
She jumped from the plane and was enjoying the plunge she’d been waiting for, not at all realizing at the time, that something was wrong. Something just felt wrong. She was traveling extremely fast and for a longer time than she’d thought she was supposed to be in free-fall. She noticed that the parachute had not yet opened and asked the instructor who was jumping in tandem, attached to her, what was going on. No response. It must have been the wind, she thought. She kept falling until she realized that something was very, very wrong…at this point, she’d been falling for a very long time. She looked up to see if she could get her instructor’s attention and realized that not only had the main parachute ejected but the reserve parachute had as well and the two were intertwined. To make matters worse, the cords from both had wrapped around the instructors necked and choked him out…unconscious. It was then that she knew she was going to die.
The two then landed in a field, only several meters from a paved road that ran alongside it. She never lost consciousness, though she would later say that she wished she had, so she wouldn’t have remembered everything. Her mouth was full of blood and she couldn’t move anything from her upper abdomen down. Had the two landed a few short meters away, the pavement would have killed them both. Emma landed first and then the instructor landed on top of her, leaving her pinned beneath the unconscious man. They’d flown far from the place where they were initially supposed to land, so she had to wait, and wait, and wait for someone to come to find her in the middle of the field.
Her teeth had shattered and she’d broken her pelvis, as well as fracturing her spine in two places, which explains her being paralyzed from the upper abdomen down. The damage was quite severe. But with dedication and physical therapy, Emma would come to walk again and begin functioning like normal. Eventually, she would regain some of her most important functions, though not all of them. At the end of the day, however, Emma is just thankful to be alive.
05. Victor Bryie and Shaun Phillips:
In December of 2013, a British man Victor and his skydiving partner named Shaun Phillips went skydiving in Florida and attempted to do a professional maneuver known as Canopy Relative Work, which is when skydivers grab and hold onto the canopy of one another’s parachutes to form a long daisy-chain that, of course, looks quite interesting to anyone filming or on the ground. While these types of unusual moves are frowned upon and cautioned against while training, the duo were asked by another skydiver if they’d like to learn how to perform the move during their jump. They opted to give it a shot, trusting the other skydiver. Big mistake.
The two approached the proper altitude for their jump of 2,743 meters, or about 9,000 feet. As could be expected, and likely as they’d been cautioned might happen, as well as what good old fashion reason might conclude, the jumpers got their parachutes entangled and plummeted toward the earth at an alarming speed.
At around 914 meters, 3,000 feet above the ground, Shaun Phillips was able to wrestle his ankle free, which had been entangled in the parachutes, which caused his to open. Victor Bryce, however, would hit the ground with his parachute only having partially opened. Miraculously, both men survived the incident.
04. Elijah Arranz:
The story of Elijah Arranz is both one of tragedy and overcoming, as well as self-sacrifice, and his story is notable because when the skydiving accident occurred, he was only 14-years-old. It was November of 2015, when Elijah Arranz would go skydiving at only 14 with the instructor who’d been tasked to take him on the excursion, a 44-year-old man named Tony Rokov, in Goulburn, in New South Wales, Australia.
The two took off for a tandem jump together and at some point during their drop, on a pristine day for skydiving, a completely unexpected gust of wind came along and struck the divers, which ultimately caused their parachute to deflate. The man and the boy began to descend instantly and violently. They fell to the earth at a near-free-fall.
Tony Rokov had been in the Australian military and had been jumping from planes his entire life. Elijah Arranz was just a 14-year-old boy whose fun skydiving adventure had just gone very wrong. As the two approached the ground, Tony Rokov, being a former Special Forces jumper, tucked himself around underneath the boy and pushed him upward, giving the boy a bit of a barrier between himself and the ground at just the right moment. The two hit the ground and paramedics rushed to the scene. Miraculously, Elijah Arranz’s life had been saved by the actions of Tony Rokov, who died in one of the most heroic acts thinkable.
Tony Rokov was posthumously awarded the Star of Courage, something that only 170 people in Australia have ever received since the 1970s.
03. Mackenzie Wethington:
For her 16th birthday, a teenage girl from Texas named Mackenzie Wethington was to receive the wonderful gift of skydiving for her birthday present. Her plane climbed to 1,066 meters, or, 3,500 feet, and jumped from the aircraft. As she careened downward toward the earth, a malfunction happened when she pulled the ripcord of her parachute, over Pegasus Air Sports Center located in Chickasha, Oklahoma. The parachute deployed but it began spinning like a top and she spun underneath it, which even a casual observer can say confidently isn’t the way that a parachute is supposed to function.
While she never reached terminal velocity, nor did she hit the ground at free-fall speed, the doctors would later say that her injuries were akin to being struck by a car that was traveling between 40 and 50 miles per hour, or 64 and 80 kilometers per hour. When it comes to the sheer mechanics of skydiving accidents, this is actually the kind of accident you want to have, if any, as the parachute that spins as a malfunction tends to put the skydiver in a position where they strike the ground feet first. She was also fortunate to land in a pit of sand, rather than other, harder, denser materials which are much more devastating upon impact.
Her liver was ruptured, her teeth broken, and her legs from her hips downward were severely damaged, suffering multiple broken bones, but, actually didn’t need any surgeries — she healed up naturally, in time. Her recovery took six to eight weeks, though she’s very fortunate to be alive.
02. The Christopher Swales Incident:
On September 8th of 2019, a man from the United Kingdom had come to the United States to skydive in the Grand Canyon. It was something of a dream. The man would be skydiving tandem at the site of the national monument, likely to provide breathtaking views. Christopher Swales purchased a package from the company Paragon Skydive and was set to jump with his instructor from the company. Though the majority of the jump went well, as they approached the landing site, an issue caused them to begin to fall at a free-fall speed, and authorities say they hit the landing zone in a hard landing.
Sadly, Christopher Swales died, as rescuers found him unconscious after having hit the ground incredibly hard. His instructor, however, only suffered a broken leg. I supposed that’s how tandem jumps go, sometimes, where one tragedy happens and the other person involved survives.
01. Joan Murray:
Unlike many others on this list, Joan Murray wasn’t a professional skydiver, but a bank executive who occasionally got her kicks in the form of adrenaline-junkie highs, the kind that might come along with jumping out of a moving airplane thousands of feet in the air. Her story may, in fact, be one of the most unbelievable tales of survival ever told. It involved a freak skydiving accident and ants — a lot of ants. The jump wasn’t supposed to be anything spectacular, just another routine jump for the 47-year-old Bank of America executive who skydived as a hobby.
The date was September 25th, 1999, and the jump was to take place from 14,500 feet, or a terrifying 4,420 meters. Once she’d reached 700 feet (213 meters) from the ground, she pulled the cord to expand her main parachute — it didn’t work. Fortunately, her reserve parachute did deploy, but that good fortune was short-lived, as she spun out of control. This caused her reserve parachute to deflate, and she went screaming towards the ground below at a free-fall rate, yet again.
Unable to do anything further, Joan careened into the ground and smacked the earth so hard that her dental fillings ejected from her teeth — she shattered the entire right side of her body, and as if this wasn’t bad enough, she landed in a massive pile of stinging fire ants.