Parachutist survives fall of 3500 feet
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Daily Telegraph By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
12:00AM GMT 14 Nov 2004
An Army officer survived falling 3,500 feet from an aircraft after his parachute failed to open properly during a training exercise.
Lieut Charlie Williams, a platoon commander in the Irish Guards, escaped serious injury when he crashed through the corrugated iron roof of a house in a shanty town in eastern Kenya.
The 25-year-old officer, who was making only his third parachute jump, cracked three vertebrae in the lower part of his back and dislocated a finger, when his fall was broken by the roof.
In his first interview since the accident, Lieut Williams said: "I was completely helpless, there was nothing I could do. I said to myself 'this is it' and I prepared to die."
The incident began immediately after Lieut Williams jumped from a Cessna 102 aircraft as it circled above Malindi airport. Instead of making a clean exit, he clipped the side of the door and was sent spinning and tumbling through the air. His feet became entangled in the parachute's rigging lines and he began spiralling downward, head first. All attempts to free himself failed.
"The parachute canopy had partly deployed, but my feet were up above me and were preventing it from deploying fully," said Lieut Williams, who was speaking from his parents' home in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
"I was travelling very fast and spinning at the same time. I only realised how fast when I went speeding past the person who had jumped before me, and he was initially 100 feet below me.
"I was very frightened and I was panicking. My body position meant that it was impossible to deploy my reserve parachute. Everything I tried failed, so I resigned myself to the fact that I was about to die.
"Bizarrely, from that point on, everything seemed to slow down and I became strangely calm. I remember thinking of how lonely I felt at the time.
"I just tried to keep things as ordered as possible and waited to see what was going to happen when I hit the ground."
As Lieut Williams fell, his instructors looked on in the belief that he would be killed. They aborted the other jumps, banked the aircraft steeply and followed his path down to earth.
"The next thing I knew, was that I had smashed through the corrugated iron roof of somebody's home and I was lying on the ground with a crowd of puzzled Kenyans looking at me. My immediate thought was 'Oh my God, I'm alive'.
"At that point I wasn't in any particular pain, but I was experiencing an odd sensation. I didn't feel connected to my body. I felt as though I was looking down at myself and my arms and legs were not in the position that they felt they should be.
"Slowly, I realised I could wiggle my toes and clench my leg muscles. I was breathing and I was looking for breaks and bleeding, but there wasn't any. I knew I wasn't paralysed - that was a huge relief but I didn't try to stand up."
After the accident, which happened two weeks ago, Lieut Williams was given first aid by British Army medics. He was later flown to a hospital in Nairobi before being evacuated to Britain.
Lieut Williams joined the Army in 2001 after reading mathematics at Edinburgh University. He was commissioned into the Irish Guards. "I don't know if I'm very lucky or very unlucky. I'm alive and frankly that's all that matters," he said. "I went parachuting because I have a fear of heights and I wanted to crack it. I'm still scared of heights, but I certainly haven't been put off parachuting."
Lt Col Mike Smith, the commandant of the Joint Services Parachuting Centre, in Netheravon, Wiltshire, was in charge of the dropping zone at the airfield. The colonel, who is a veteran of 7,000 parachute jumps, said: "When I arrived at the scene I assumed I would either find a dead body or someone very badly injured. He is a very lucky young man."
Lieut Williams is still receiving treatment but he is expected to rejoin the 1 Bn Irish Guards in January. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "Adventure training is meant to have an element of risk built into it so the activity is challenging an exciting, but this was a bit excessive."