Injured skydiver determined to jump again

EARLY CARE: St John Ambulance officers are among those helping skydiver Liam Dunne.
EARLY CARE: St John Ambulance officers are among those helping skydiver Liam Dunne.

A skydiver who survived a terrifying fall to earth is determined to jump again.

Liam Dunne spoke from his hospital bed yesterday, where he is recovering from a broken back.

"Those last 1000 feet it was like 'here we go, this is it'. It wasn't nice. But that said, it was a one in a million accident and a one in a million save. Skydiving is an awesome sport, and I've done 4000 jumps and never had a problem."

Dunne 35, from Taupo, said his canopy opened normally after he jumped from 3900m at a festival at Motueka last week. But he went into an unrecoverable spin and had to ditch his main chute, and couldn't find the reserve canopy's handle. It finally opened just 228m from the ground - far too low, and he slammed into the ground, the impact leaving deep imprints in the ground.

"As my reserve chute was coming out I realised it was too late, so I just braced for the impact," Dunne said. "Luckily I hit the softest patch of ground on the whole airfield. I bounced hard and my whole left side went numb. It felt like I had broken every bone in my body, and I couldn't breathe. I was just sitting there dying. But my friend landed next to me, and she said 'you're all right, you can breathe'. She looked at my leg and said 'look, it's still there, it's not deformed or anything'.

"She was with me the whole time. Then the ambulance came and filled me full of drugs," he said.

Fighting all the way down, Dunne said he didn't have time to think about his wife Sally or his two children. But in the helicopter, hallucinations from the drugs convinced him he was dying. "I remember yelling out for them. Once I came out of the helicopter I was still alive and people were talking to me, so I was able to control my mind again."

The Nelson Hospital trauma team helped stabilise him, before he was transferred to Christchurch for an operation on his shattered back. Yesterday he was waiting to be transferred to the Burwood spinal unit to begin his recovery.

His rescuers, and the medical staff had been amazing, he said. "Now it's just up to me as to how well the nerves can repair themselves, and how much strength I get back in my left leg."

Originally from Liverpool, Dunne, known as "Geezer", has more than 4000 jumps to his name after getting hooked on the sport as a Territorial Army recruit. "Statistically it's a very safe sport, and it's great to be part of. I hope to get back to it."

Sunday Star Times