9 Survival Stories of Dual Parachute Malfunction

A black plane flying in the sky and three skydivers with one's parachute seemed to be caught buy the plane and the two getting blown away, they are all set against a clear blue sky background.
Some Lucky People Even Survive Parachute Failures

At a height of 10,000 feet, a simple leap from an airplane will result in an immediate stomach-lurching, gravity-induced free fall. A dual parachute malfunction during skydiving is an unquestionable death sentence. And yet there have been survivors.

There are 157 recorded incidents where people fell out of an aircraft without a parachute and survived. However, the actual number is likely to be higher, as many incidents go unrecorded or are not reported.

How did the survivors survive an impending 120 mph bone-smacking crash into the earth without a working parachute? In order to answer these questions, I looked at the nine most unbelievable survival stories and discovered how they survived their fall.

How To Survive A Double Parachute Failure

As you will see from the 9 incredible survival stories, there are four factors that play a role:

  • The higher the falling speed the stronger the impact and the lower the chances of survival. There are several factors influencing the falling speed such as jumping height and surface area of the skydiver. If you are falling without a parachute, you should try to increase your surface area as much as possible. It will increase the air resistance and thereby decrease your falling speed. One way to do that is to fly in a belly-to-earth position. It is also shown that parachutes that do not open properly still reduce the falling speed.  
    Contrary to common beliefs, the jumping height only plays a role up until 1,500 ft. Skydivers will reach their terminal velocity after 1,500 ft, meaning that their speed does not accelerate afterward. As a result, there is no significant speed difference between an exit height of 15,000 ft and 2,000 ft. To learn more about terminal velocity and free-falling speed, check this guide.
  • The ground surface is key to absorbing the impact. The softer the ground is the lower the impact will be. Most survivors survived because they landed in bushes, lines, or trees that slowed them down before hitting the ground. Landing in water is also a “good” option, even though the water surface is quite hard when hitting it with high speed.
  • “Landing” in a back-first position is considered the safest possible landing position in case of a double parachute failure. It is still highly likely that you die, but you increase your chances. Hitting the ground with the head first will result in immediate death because your head will be immediately smashed. Hitting the ground with the legs first should also be avoided as the legs will be pushed into your inner organs.
  • Overall healthiness also plays a role – even though it is a minor role compared to the other three factors. It holds true that if you have higher flexibility and higher strengths you are more likely to absorb high impacts without dying. Specifically, stable bone structures help to reduce injuries to the bones and inner organs. If you are in good health, you are also more likely to recover faster and to a greater extent.

9 Survival Stories of Dual Parachute Malfunction

Here are the stories of those survivors who jumped from their airplanes, experienced a dual parachute failure, and somehow cheated death.

NameExperience levelFalling heightLanding area
Michael HolmesSkydive instructor15,000 ft
(4,572 m)
Blueberry bush
Christine McKenzieIntermediate skydiver11,000 ft
(3,353 m)
Power lines
Makenzie WethingtonFirst-time solo jumper3,500 ft
(1,067 m)
Hard ground
Brad GuyTandem jumpers15,000 ft
(4,572 m)
Golf-course lake
Craig StapletonProfessional skydiver8,000 ft
(2,438 m)
Grape field
Emma CareyStudent tandem jumper10,000 ft
(3,050 m)
Lareece ButlerNovice skydiver3,000 ft
(914 m)
Gareth GriffithsTandem jumper12,000 ft
(3,658 m)
On own instructor
Shayna RichardsonFirst-time solo jumper10,000 ft
(3,048 m)
Parking lot
Overview Of Nine People That Survived A Double Parachute Failure

Michael Holmes, Skydive Instructor – Fell From over 15,000 Feet Onto A Blueberry Bush

Michael Holmes was born in Jersey and started skydiving at an extremely young age. He was 15 when he took his first jump and by the age of 19, he had already completed over 1,000 jumps.

Over time, he was able to turn his passion for skydiving into a successful career by working as an instructor in Lake Taupo, New Zealand.

On 12 December 2006, a day that began like any other, the then 26-year-old Michael boarded his airplane and ascended to the pre-planned height of 15,000 ft (4,572m).

When he was ready, he leaped out of the plane, filming the jump through his camera. At 5,000 ft, he pulled the cord to open his parachute.

However, there was trouble.

The main canopy had tangled, causing an imbalance and Michael to uncontrollably spiral around. In such a spiral, one cannot simply cut the main parachute loose and deploy the reserve parachute.

Michaels heart pounded in fear as he hurtled toward the ground. Using his tremendous prior experience, he calmed himself and at 700 ft he attempted to open his reserve chute, designed especially for such moments.

It refused to open, entangling itself as well. This was it. The end.

With only seconds left to crash into the Earth and with no resistance against the unyielding pull of gravity, Michael felt that his fate was sealed.

Surely, he was going to bounce off the ground like a rag doll on impact. He turned the camera to his face and waved goodbye to whoever would have to view the unfortunate footage of his death once he was gone. “Oh shit, I’m dead…. Bye”

But he did not die.

Miraculously, against all odds, probabilities, and statistics, Michael landed on a blueberry bush and survived! The thick interlocking vines of the blueberry bush served as a cushion for Michael, absorbing his entire impact, and spreading his kinetic energy throughout itself into the ground below.

If you want to learn more about why parachutes fail, check out the 13 most common reasons for it.

Michael did not escape injury-free though. He suffered a few broken ribs, a broken left ankle, and a collapsed and fractured right lung.

After an 11-day stay in the hospital he was discharged and sent home for recuperation and after 8 months, Michael, fully healed but still fearless, was skydiving once again.

Christine McKenzie, Skydiver – Fell From 11,000 Feet onto a Bunch of Power Lines

Christine McKenzie, a young South African skydiver once survived a fall with no working parachutes.

In August 2004, the then 23-year-old had gone to the Johannesburg Skydiving Club to make her 112th jump. After leaping from an altitude of 11,000 ft (3353 m), she did a sitting position which resulted in her achieving a quicker terminal velocity.

Satisfied with her trajectory and speed, she then turned to a belly-to-earth position at the height of 5,906 ft (1,800 m). When she reached her desired height of 4,000 ft (1,220 m), she attempted to deploy her parachute.

However, when she looked up, she saw that there was nothing above her; the main canopy had failed to open.

Acting quickly as she spiraled downwards, Christine immediately cut away from the main parachute and deployed her reserve chute.

However, due to the strong force exerted, some lines of her reserve snapped, and others got tangled among themselves. There was no hope left!

Everything important in Christine’s life flashed before her eyes: She saw her family and imagined memories from her upcoming wedding filled her mind’s eye.

Then suddenly, Christine felt a massive jolt and was knocked out of her reverie. By more luck than judgment, she had managed to crash into a bunch of power lines.

But this time the entanglement of wires worked in her favor. The lines had caught her like an insect in a spider’s web and stopped her momentum, breaking her fall.

When she was found, Christine was immediately airlifted to a nearby hospital with her family by her side. Luckily for her, she only escaped with a fractured pelvic bone, and some light bruising and was out of the hospital after a few days.

Due to the accident, Christine and her fiancé unsurprisingly decided to cancel their planned honeymoon activities of skydiving and settled for a romantic vacation instead.

Shaken, she decided to give up on skydiving permanently after her traumatic near-death experience.

Makenzie Wethington, First Time Solo Jumper – Fell From 3,500 Feet Back-First Onto the Ground

Makenzie Wethington wanted to experience the thrill of jumping from an airplane on her 16th birthday. As Texas had a law that only allowed adults aged 18 to go skydiving, Mackenzie’s father Joe, drove them both 200 miles north to Oklahoma in order to legally circumvent the law.

On 25th January 2014, they arrived at the Pegasus Air Sports Center where they were warmly greeted and trained by the business owner.

Unfortunately, a tandem jump wasn’t available during that time, so they opted for static solo jumping. Oklahoma law allowed static solo jumping for beginners as long as there was parental consent – which her father duly provided.

They climbed to 3,500 ft in a small Cessna plane. Mackenzie’s father jumped first, and she followed soon after.

Her parachute initially deployed but the top and bottom of the canopy were tangled with each other, rendering it impossible for the parachute to inflate. Makenzie began descending in an uncontrollable spiral.

Mackenzie crashed into the ground back-first with absolutely no resistance against her free fall!

Paramedics on the scene airlifted her to OU Medical Center. Somehow, she was alive. Tests revealed that she had broken her pelvis, several ribs, a shoulder blade, and three thoracic vertebrae, lacerated her liver and kidneys, and also suffered from bleeding in her brain.

Makenzie underwent several rehabilitation programs in order to recover some of her lost mobility which included seeing a neuropsychologist, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist.

A lawsuit was filed against the instructor that she had received inadequate training before the jump and had not been given the appropriate parachute required for her skill level.

The district court ordered him to pay her $760,000 in compensation ($400,000 for physical pain and suffering, $350,000 for mental pain and suffering, and $10,000 for future medical expenses).

As a direct consequence of the accident, the USPA increased the minimum skydiving age uniformly across the US to 18 years. It also set the number of logged jumps before allowing an unsupervised solo jump to 25 jumps. 

Brad Guy and His Instructor Bill, Tandem Jumpers – Fell From 15,000 Feet Into A Golf Course Lake

Brad Guy from Melbourne received a skydiving voucher for his 21st birthday but it was only a year later that he used it to book a tandem dive. To make a memorable experience unforgettable, he brought his entire family to watch this grand spectacle.

On 31st August 2013, the then 22-year-old Brad, together with his Instructor Bill hopped onto a Cessna airplane that climbed to a height of 15,000 ft. As planned, at the desired height, they jumped from the plane and began falling at a speed of 120 mph.

When they reached the altitude of 4,000 ft, Bill deployed their parachute, but Brad quickly noticed that their speed had not reduced. He looked up and saw to his horror that the main canopy had tangled.

Bill soon deployed the reserve parachute but for some reason, it encountered the same fate. With no resistance against the air, they began to swirl violently in tight circles with no control of their fall.

To their luck, Brad and Bill landed in a golf course lake, the water breaking their fall. Brad suffered a broken spine, cracked ribs, torn neck ligaments, and bruising. His physical wounds healed over the course of a few months, but his mental wounds took considerably longer.

Brad Guy Talks About His Traumatic Experience

Brad suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder which took him over 4 years to overcome. He eventually found his feet and got back to his normal life. To be reminded of his accident and the luck that he is still alive, he got a tattoo of a skydiver inked on his arm.

Craig Stapleton, Experienced Skydiver – Fell From 8,000 Feet into a Grape Field

Skydiving accidents do not only happen to novice skydivers as the story of Craig Stapleton illustrates.

Craig, a back-then 51-year-old seasoned jumper, was a member of the Redline – a group of competitive skydivers that joins different formation competitions. He had at least 7,000 jumps under his belt and had performed at several skydiving competitions.

He went for a practice dive on 10th March 2013 with his skydive teammate Katie Hanson and videographer T.J. Landgren. They aimed to practice a two-stack formation while holding a big American flag between them.

Everything proceeded as planned; they jumped from an altitude of 8,000 feet and successfully opened their parachutes. However, as they began unfurling, Craig got caught up with the lanyard attached to the corner of the flag.

The canopy got tangled with the flag and Craig went into an uncontrollable spiral. While falling, he managed to successfully release the flag but could not cut away his main canopy.

At over 1,700 ft, he stopped trying to cut it away and deployed his reserve parachute.

The reserve parachute, however, could not open properly because the main parachute was still in its way.

Looking down, Craig realized that he was going to slam into a grape field, filled with 5-foot iron stakes at a great speed. He braced for impact.

Luckily, he landed on a wet patch of recently mulched soil whose soft, churned nature greatly cushioned his impact.

Craig only suffered a dislocated shoulder with a few bruises on his left side and a small scratch under his eye. He suffered no internal injuries whatsoever. Although shaken, ever the champion, Craig was soon back to competitive skydiving with his team.

Emma Carey, Student Tandem Jumper – Crashed Into A Field From 10,000 Feet

In 2013, 20-year-old Emma Carey from Australia embarked on a three-month trip to Europe with her best friend. It had been a shared lifelong dream for them and part of their bucket list to go skydiving over the Swiss Alps.

The trip started off fine and everything was going well – until the fifth day when things took an unfortunate turn.

Emma and her best friend had gone for a tandem jump. Each attached to their own respective instructor, they jumped from a helicopter and began falling at an increasing velocity.

Initially caught up in the thrill of it, Emma noticed only late in the fall that her instructor was non-responsive. When she looked up, she saw their two parachutes had entangled with each other. One of the cords had wrapped itself around the neck of her instructor strangling him unconscious – what a nightmare.

Having had neither prior experience nor training, Emma was helpless to do anything but accept her fate.

Emma and her instructor both crashed into a field, narrowly avoiding the concrete road a few meters away which, if impacted, would have resulted in certain death.

Emma hit the ground first and her instructor, still strapped on her back, slammed into her from above. Dazed, confused but most importantly alive, they were both airlifted to a nearby hospital.

The fall had broken Emma’s pelvis and spine in two places resulting in paralysis from the waist down. After a month in the hospital, Emma returned to Australia where she continued to receive physiotherapy every day.

After four years of hard work and perseverance, she learned to walk again and was well enough to be able to fulfill her lifetime dream of traveling around Europe.

Lareece Butler, Novice Skydiver – Fell From 3,000 Feet Into the Ground

In 2010, Lareece Butler, a 26-year-old mother, was on a training course at the EP Skydiving Club in South Africa. She boarded a plane with four student jumpers and a trained instructor. They climbed to a height of 3,000 feet.

Lareece mentioned that since she was the last one to jump, she had seen the other jumpers before her have problems with their parachutes and so she got cold feet.

Later, in one of her statements, she said that she had requested the instructor to bring her down as she was not keen on jumping after what she had witnessed. Rather than following her wish, the instructor pushed her out of the airplane.

So Lareece went into free fall.

Her parachute automatically opened but quickly became entangled. She slammed into the ground near Grahamstown – her boyfriend watching the entire event in horror.

Lareece was brought to the Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth where tests showed that she had suffered several bruises, a fractured leg, and a head concussion. She remained in intensive care for a couple of months before she eventually recovered.

Gareth Griffiths, Tandem Jumper – Fell From 12,000 Feet On Top of His Instructor

Gareth Griffiths, a 27-year-old Management Consultant from London went to Florida with his friends for a two-week holiday. Bitten by the increased popularity of skydiving among Americans, they decided to enroll in a ten-day parachuting course to prepare themselves for obtaining an American license.

For their routine tandem dive, Gareth was attached to his American instructor Michael Costello, 42, who had 18 years of skydiving experience under his belt.

The pair jumped from a Cessna plane at an altitude of 12,000 ft. When they reached 5,000 ft, Michael deployed his main parachute, but it failed to open. As they continued their free fall the reserve canopy was deployed but it got entangled with the first parachute.

They both plummeted to the ground. In order to save Gareth, Michael flipped them both around at the last second such that Gareth would land on Michael. Michael thereby absorbed the impact of the fall.

Both men were airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Centre immediately. Unfortunately, Michael had suffered too many injuries and was declared dead on arrival. He had made the ultimate sacrifice of giving his life to save his students.

Gareth remained in the hospital with a fractured spine and had to undergo several hours of surgery to repair his damaged lower back.

He was eventually released from the hospital after 13 days and allowed to go home to London. Gareth and his entire family were forever grateful to the instructor Michael for saving the young man’s life.

Shayna Richardson, First Time Solo Jumper – Fell From 10,000 Into A Parking Lot

On 9th October 2005, Shayna Richardson went on her first solo AFF skydive in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Her boyfriend and licensed skydiver, Rich accompanied her and jumped simultaneously. Shayna jumped from a height of 10,000 ft. with Rich, through his head-mounted camera, able to record in chilling detail the entire sequence of events that unfolded.

Shayna’s main canopy deployed as normal and for a brief moment, she descended as planned – until one of her steering toggles abruptly and unexpectedly snapped loose.

Shayna went into an uncontrollable spin, and she frantically cut away the main parachute to deploy her reserve parachute. However, it only partially opened and then tangled – while her boyfriend watched in horror.

The 21-year-old hit the Siloam Springs parking lot in a belly-to-earth position, smashing face-first into the concrete. Luckily still conscious, she was quickly transported to a hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She underwent several surgeries to fix her broken pelvis and to have numerous steel plates placed in her fractured face.

During the series of several tests at the hospital, the doctors found out that she was two weeks pregnant and miraculously the unborn baby was found to be unharmed.

After a successful delivery to a healthy baby boy in June 2006, Shayna went for one final skydive before giving it all up to focus on taking care of her miracle child.

Reading all these (horror) stories, you might think that skydiving is a dangerous sport with a lot of risks. However, parachute failures are extremely rare, and skydivers can decrease their margin of error through proper training and by using better equipment.

According to the USPA, dual parachutes fail only 0.45 times out of every 100,000 skydiving solo jumps and only about 1 time out of every 500,000 tandem jumps. You can read more about it here: How often do both parachutes fail?

Stay safe jumpers and enjoy your free fall!

Kai Schmidt

Hi, I'm Kai. The first time I jumped out of an airplane and experienced free fall was one of the most amazing moments of my life. For me, skydiving does not only stand for freedom and independence but being present in the moment and being respectful to others and oneself. Now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

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