What happened after you hit the ground?
Again, since I don't remember much I've had to piece together the events immediately after the accident. A number of wonderful skydivers came to my aid within seconds after impact and thanks to the ambulance being there in about a minute, I was kept on the edge between life and death long enough to bring me back all the way to the living.
Had this accident occurred ANYWHERE else in the world, I would be dead right now. I have absolutely no doubts about that. I lost so much blood, that, even if the impact trauma weren't that bad, I'd have bled to death in a few minutes. Fortunately for me, I didn't damage any vital organs. If I had, you can bet that the combined injuries would have killed me even after making it to Blessing Hospital. Additionally, I did not damage my head, neck, pelvis or hip! Nope, I basically broke a lot of joints (and face)!
Every single person I've spoken with who was there tells me they thought I had died. They were sure that noone could have survived an impact of that severity (I estimate I was moving around 30-35 mph). As one female skydiver wrote, "I was there... I along w/many others, stood right next to you on the runway. A girl I had never met & I were clutching one another, crying as we watched the medics work on you.... I clearly remember her saying 'he is dead.' That angered me a lot- & I told her- 'don't write him off yet- he is NOT dead!'" And yet another skydiver, "My 16-way team all thought you were dead."
Here's how one skydiver explained the impact to me in email, "the impact sound was SICKENING. At the time I assumed it was your internal organs exploding or something - looking back on it, i guess it was the air in the parachute. In any event, it made a loud noise almost like a small explosion." And another skydiver wrote, "The most chilling thing was the sound, with you going 'unghhhh'."
In any case, here are some email letters I have received which paint a picture of what happened immediately after I 'landed.' I particularly like the last sentence of skydiver #3; quite interesting all of it!
Skydiver #1 writes
"Ok, you asked for it. I was over in front of manifest on a bike talking to a friend. Didn't see the collision but saw the canopies separate and both of you impact. I thought the other guy was the one hurt the worst. Tore off across the landing area on the bike to help. I had helped do CPR on the guy that crashed into the camper earlier in the day. He was about as bad as you and did die 4 hours later. At one point while we were doing CPR before the paramedics arrived he didn't have a pulse. By the time they took over he did. Any way, I was bummed out about that but had put some gloves in my pocket for the next one.
"As I got to the runway the other guy got up and walked away. I got to you, put my gloves on and by that time the paramedics were already starting to help. I was the only other person (I think) with gloves so I asked if I could hold C-spine (stabilize your neck) while the paramedics worked. They agreed on the help. There was quite a pool of blood from your face, I was seeing teeth through your cheek, and there were things sticking every which way out of your legs.
"The medics tried to intubate you on the asphalt but the crowd of people, who all thought they were on ER but were just shouting things, made it hard for them to work. They apparently missed your trachea the first time and got the tube in your esophagus. At this point you started vomiting through the ET tube (you can't do that if its in right). The medics gave up on working on the ground (not on you) so we quickly got you on a board, on a cot, and into the ambulance where it was quiet and they had more equipment to use. Obviously they got your airway established. They worked awhile before they left with you (normal when your that bad)."
Skydiver #2 writes
"I was in Quincy, and witnessed your landing, but not the actual collision/wrap with the other diver. I was landing across the runway from the manifest tent when I saw you fall. I ran over, dropped my gear, and went to see if I could help. By that time the EMS team had arrived and started working on you. I helped cut up your jumpsuit (sorry about that) and started an IV. At the time of your accident, I honestly did not think you would make it to the hospital, or through the night."
Skydiver #3 writes
"I am a skydiver and a paramedic in the Air Force. I was waiting for Casa 212 to get back when you landed about 50 feet from our tent. I saw you land and we all heard the sound. I was the second person to get to you. I helped maintain your airway and c-spine until the other paramedics arrived with the ambulance. They took over the airway and I went into there box to get an IV kit. After a woman who claimed to be a nurse missed the first attempt I gave you an IV in your right arm. I noticed your femurs and knees they looked very bad. I almost thought the bone marrow was the foam padding in the knees of your jump suit."
Skydiver #4 writes
"I'm a nurse in a busy Trauma Intensive Care Unit--you scared me bad. I honestly didn't know if you were going to make it to the hospital. There was a buttload of people around you within 2 minutes. As soon as the rescue squad got back from the hospital, I almost cried with relief when I found out that you had woken up on the way there--one of the guys was a big boy--he said he had to lay on top of you to keep you on the stretcher."
[This is absolutely correct. I spoke with the EMT when I made a glorious (but non-jumping) return to Quincy in '98. He is about 6' 5" and 250 lbs; not a small man. He stated that I woke up in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and grabbed him by the shirt. Amazing! -dead mike]
Skydiver #5 writes
"I ran from tent 4, slowing only long enough at the National Guard area to order the ambulance to the scene immediately, and continued to you, intending to staunch arterial bleeding or perform such CPR as would be warranted until professionals arrived. Luckily, you impacted within a few steps of a variety of skilled medical personnel, and there were others standing by to assist the Paramedics and Physicians in charge as necessary, so I didn't need to do much. Enough of your friends were there that securing your gear wasn't a problem, either.
"If I had offered odds of a nickel vs. $100 that you wouldn't survive your injuries, I would have had takers who considered it to be five cents in the bank. That you had survived so far as the hospital was met with disbelief.
"Your body position at impact was evidently just right to avoid massive central nervous system damage, and your face served as a 'crumple zone' to protect your brain."
Many, many, many people I spoke with at Quincy in 1998 were surprised I was still alive. Honestly! The ambulance pulled away extrememly slowly without the lights or sirens on. To many people, they thought this meant I was already dead, and that is the last image they had in their mind. After speaking with the EMT upon my return, I learned that they were going slowly because they were still attempting to clear my airway. Once they established a tracheotomy, they sped up and delivered me to the hospital, where what happened next is still unclear.