Rob, from Dawlish, was an experienced skydiver, having clocked up over 90 jumps. On 7th September 1996, however, on his 94th jump, something went horribly wrong when not just one, but both parachutes failed to open.

Rob remembers every moment of the incident; plunging to earth at over 100mph and, incredibly, thinking ‘My mum will kill me!’

He had jumped from the aircraft at 6,500 feet, more than a mile high. His first parachute failed to open, so he pulled the reserve. But the reserve and the main parachute had become tangled together. With the ground looming, Rob kept pulling the lines. Finally a quarter of one side inflated, slowing him down just a fraction as he spun to earth, and Rob put his hands round the back of his neck to brace himself for landing. The force drove his knees into his chest but, incredibly, as he rolled on to his side he remembers thinking, “I’m alive! I’m still conscious!”

In shock but unaware of any pain, Rob tried to get up but couldn’t feel anything except pins and needles. A fellow skydiver landed and rushed over, saying “Don’t worry, you’re still here.” The pilot of the plane had radioed Rob’s position to the emergency services and the Devon Air Ambulance was soon on scene, assessing Rob’s injuries and flying him to RD&E for surgery. He was covered in bruises and his injuries included a fractured pelvis and a broken vertebrae in his back but, miraculously, he had survived. His treatment included a bone graft and metal plate to support the spine where the crushed vertebrae had been and, amazingly, Rob was allowed home just three weeks later.

A witness of the incident was in shock at the time. “He just fell out of the sky. It took about 40 seconds for him to hit the ground but it felt like forever. I ran across the fields with my feet like lead; I thought I’d find his dead body. Instead, he was chatting to paramedics. I was completely amazed. To this day, I still believe I witnessed a miracle.”

As for Rob, who returned to work as an IT consultant six months after the accident, he gave up skydiving and explained,  “I am not nearly so rash now. Life is precious. Maybe it wasn’t my time to die or maybe someone was looking over me that day. Either way, I’m not going to push my luck!”

Coincidentally, the airfield where Rob used to skydive is also where our Eaglescott airbase is located. Some 18 years after his accident, Rob visited our Eaglescott airbase with his wife, Laura, and son, Theo. Needless to say, the visit brought back many memories.