Wet ground was a factor in the survival of an experienced skydiver injured after his main parachute failed to work properly over Motueka airport, an industry leader says.
Liam Dunne, 35, from Taupo, suffered serious injuries when he landed feet first at high-speed after having to ditch his main chute and rely on his emergency one yesterday afternoon.
His landing left nearly 10cm-deep impressions on the airport grass.
Dunne was transferred to Christchurch Hospital from Nelson Hospital this morning in a stable condition. His injuries were described as not life-threatening.
His wife, Sally, flew from Taupo to be with him.
Dunne was competing in the 11th annual week-long Good Vibes skydiving festival.
Abel Tasman Skydive owner Stuart Bean said this morning the festival was continuing today from 9am as Dunne would have wanted them to carry on.
The fact that the soil was wet was "absolutely" a factor in his survival, Bean said. "I believe that to be the case. If you're going to hit something, if it's soft it's going to help."
Bean said Dunne jumped from 13,000ft and opened his parachute at 4000ft.
He elected to discard his main chute after problems with one of his lines meant he "was turning and had lost directional control" and could not steer.
His emergency chute then opened automatically about 720ft from the ground, according to police.
St John team manager Gary Tobin said the sky-diver landed feet-first into a grassy area at the airport.
"Two feet indentations clearly marked his point of landing to a depth of four inches (10cm)."
Tobin said Dunne was assessed for spinal compression and lumbar fractures.
He did not have the kind of leg injuries that he had seen at other similar accidents.
Tobin said Dunne was in an awful amount of pain and was conscious while being treated.
Witnesses Georgie and Kim Eschweiler said they watched as Dunne's main parachute floated away and he landed hard on the airport's southern side behind some hangars about 2pm.
"He came down fast and hit the ground full blast," Eschweiler said.
The festival, organised by Skydive Abel Tasman, and attended by about 100 sport and recreational skydivers, was put on hold following the incident.
This morning about 40 skydivers gathered in groups drinking coffee and adjusting their neon jumping suits as they waited for the first flights of the day at 9am to take them 13,000 feet above Motueka.
Festival organiser Lisa Chambers from Skydive Abel Tasman said no-one had backed out of skydives today after Dunne's accident and that she expected about 400 to 500 jumps to be completed.
Chambers said skydivers would be performing sketches for Dunne to include in the day's highlights movie and that everyone would sign a big 'get well' card for him. The Good Vibes festival ends on Sunday.
Bean said the company would do an internal investigation and then report as required to the Civil Aviation Authority, OSH and the NZ Parachute Industry Association (NZPIA).
The company was to review any camera footage taken by witnesses, including from helmet cameras of people who jumped alongside Mr Dunne.
Dunne was taking part in a four-way jump, but Bean said that was "irrelevant" to the investigation because the formation during freefall was over and Dunne's parachute had opened normally.
The problem came after it had opened and he had difficulty steering.
In the 11 years of the festival, there had been only one prior accident, which had resulted in a broken leg, Bean said.
A spokesman for the New Zealand Parachute Industry Association said an investigation into the accident would look at everything, including the equipment used.
The auto-activation device would probably have to be sent to Germany to be assessed, and determine exactly what height it opened.
It was his understanding that the reserve chute was not packed in New Zealand, but in Italy.
"Talking to Liam might take a little bit of time and he may or may not remember much," the spokesman said.
It was quite common for people to not remember the accident, he said.
Something went wrong in about one in 20,000 descents, he said, so it was uncommon.
Dunne, known as "Geezer", is originally from Liverpool, moved to New Zealand in 2003 and owns the skydiving shop Deepseed in Taupo. He has two children.
On the store's website, it said he did his first jump in the Territorial Army on a static line in 1998, and had done more than 3500 jumps by 2006.
On Dunne's Facebook page, a post from July 30 said he was delighted he had been asked to be an official part of the NZ Parachute Federation Delegation to the World Parachuting Championships in Mondial, Dubai in November.
Bean said Dunne was well-known in the small skydiving community and "everybody is really sad for him".
"It's very disturbing when one of us hurts ourselves, but he is a skydiver and would want us to carry on. We just wish him well and hope he gets well really soon."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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