Base jumper's suit may have caused accident

Last updated 05:00 11/07/2012
"LEGEND": Alan McCandlish, 31, was jumping with friends when he struck the cliff face and fell at 10.40am Saturday near Berner Oberland, about 200 kilometres southwest of Zurich.

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A world champion base jumper who saw Kiwi Alan McCandlish's fatal fall says a new flying suit may have contributed to the accident.

Mr McCandlish, 31, from Te Awamutu, was killed while performing a base jump in Switzerland's mountainous Berner Oberland region at the weekend. Onlookers said Mr McCandlish, who was wearing a wingsuit, hit a rock ledge before falling to the ground.

In an eyewitness account posted on a base jumpers' online forum, professional Australian base jumper Chris McDougall described watching in horror as his mate fell to his death. The pair had shaken hands only a short time earlier.

"I was expecting him to fly out from the other side of the ledge but instead there was a very distinct sound of an impact," he said.

"The canopy [of the wingsuit] appeared to be out but it was a ball of s..t.

Mr McDougall said he thought Mr McCandlish's death was "one hundred per cent human error".

Mr McCandlish, he said, had only recently switched to a new type of wingsuit and had been "having troubles" with it because of its different style of flying and had not practised turning sharply in it.

"Although he could turn on a dime in his S-Fly [suit], he hadn't practised turning sharply on the V4 [suit]. [But] he had made approximately 12 jumps in the suit and the last two jumps he seemed to get it to fly very well.

"Myself and Benny [a fellow base jumper who witnessed the accident] think that as he was flying so well on this jump that he went back into hardcore mode and decided to fly a tight line to the right.

"He was higher than most people who fly this line and we think he was trying to get over a large ledge that was also wide.

"We think he realised at the last second that he wasn't going to make it over and he initiated a fairly sharp turn to miss the ledge.

`We think that after the initial and fatal impact he either slid or rolled down this ledge and back into free fall and it was this time when we all heard and saw the impacting down to where he came to rest on the ledge."

Mr McDougall, who base-jumps under the name `Douggs', said the weather was perfect for base jumping when several groups of experienced jumpers in wingsuits showed up at the same time to ride the cable car to the Kandersteg cliff.

He said all the jumpers were in good spirits. "Alan had mentioned to a fellow jumper he was a little tired but nothing out of the ordinary," he said.

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"We joked as per usual and I said to him on exit, `have a good one', with a handshake."

- Waikato Times

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