Man who fell to Earth lives to tell the tale

MIKE WATSON
Last updated 09:05 21/05/2013
Liam Dunne, skydiver

LUCKY MAN: Left: An X-ray showing Liam Dunne's broken lower L2 vertebra and the steel pins put in his back. Right: Dunne recounts his brush with death.

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As skydiver Liam Dunne plummeted to what he thought was certain death, he cursed his own stupidity.

"What an idiot, I thought.

"I was pissed off, and gutted for my wife and kids.

"What a stupid way to orphan your kids ... then that was it."

He hit the ground near Motueka at 50 kilometres an hour, leaving a 20-centimetre dent in the rain-soaked ground.

But remarkably he bounced, and was flung forward on to his face and stomach.

His lower L2 vertebra was smashed into three pieces, his left leg partially paralysed from a torn nerve, and three ribs were broken.

But he survived.

"I could wriggle my toes, so I knew I hadn't broken my spinal cord," the Taupo-based skydiver said yesterday in his first interview since leaving hospital last year.

The soft landing probably saved his life, he said.

"I thought I was a goner ... I was definitely very lucky, the ground was like a big sponge."

The Liverpool-born businessman, whose company Deepseed designs and sells skydiving apparel throughout the world, had jumped out of a plane at 4000 metres to film four other skydivers executing a formation below him.

Instead, the veteran of nearly 4000 parachute jumps ended up filming his own chilling descent.

Everything was going to plan, then it suddenly went "tits up", he said. He was spun around by his main chute as he tried to unhook a piece of equipment, called a slider, which had become trapped.

With 15 seconds to impact, he grappled to release the reserve chute, which finally opened four seconds before he hit the ground.

It was just enough time to jerk him upwards so that he landed upright, with his left leg and his bottom taking the impact.

"I knew it would hurt, then boom," he said.

"It was a huge impact."

His left leg went completely numb.

A friend told him to lie still but he couldn't breathe.

"I just had this tremendous pressure on my chest."

He was flown to Nelson Hospital before being flown on to Christchurch Hospital to have a steel pin put in his back.

He spent 10 weeks at the Burwood Spinal Unit, having physio and occupational therapy.

Ten months on from the accident, he never tires of watching the video footage of how close he came to dying.

"No, not really - I survived, didn't I."

He is back in Taupo, using crutches to walk but has begun to mountainbike.

He still cannot extend his left leg fully and has been told it could take another year to 18 months for it to repair.

But already he is planning to jump out of a plane again - and says wife Sally has given her blessing.

"Definitely, it's do-able.

"The spine will be strong enough but I may have to figure another way to land."

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- The Dominion Post

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