Sat, Dec 23, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Blackberry bush cushions skydiver after chutes fail

AFP , WELLINGTON

A British skydiver who plunged 4,000m to the ground in New Zealand after his parachute failed to open captured his terrifying descent on film while believing he was plunging to his death.

Michael Holmes owes his miraculous survival to the fact that he fell into a blackberry bush which cushioned the fall, leaving him only with a broken ankle and punctured lung.

Although he has declined to be interviewed by New Zealand media, he did tell Britain's the Times from his Waikato Hospital bed that he thought he would die when both his parachutes failed.

"When the second parachute didn't open I realized it was all over," he said from his hospital bed. "I was going to die. You don't have much time to say goodbye. I just said: `Shit, I'm going to die.'"

Holmes, a cameraman who has lived in New Zealand for three years, had leapt from a plane near Taupo in North Island to film a group of skydivers on Dec. 13. He had turned on his helmet-mounted camera and captured his plunge while the rest of the group were apparently oblivious to his plight.

New Zealand Parachute Industry Association safety officer Keith Gallaher said he had viewed the film footage as part of the investigation of the accident.

"The camera was on his helmet but facing the opposite way so we can't really see a lot," he told the Dominion-Post daily yesterday. "But it does back up other information we have from witnesses' accounts."

Gallaher said Holmes' initial freefall from 4,000m went without incident. However, problems with the main chute started at around the 1,000m mark.

The police said Holmes was unconscious when ambulance officers reached him but was awake by the time he was carried away from the scene.

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