How did the accident occur?
Well, that's a good question. I can't tell you how many times I've gone over what I can remember and try to come up with more than a complete and utter blank. No matter what angle I picture in my mind, no matter how many eyewitness versions of the accident I am told, I still have a hole in my mind.
For the longest time I really needed to know what happened. I mean, how can I learn from my mistake if I can't remember the mistake? Assuming I made a mistake. When I awoke in the hospital some 10 days after the accident, I was told that an unknown skydiver had turned into my canopy and collapsed it, forcing me to plummet 80 feet to the concrete surface below.
I was most upset on hearing this and hearing that the person I collided with had not come forward. Skydivers just don't do that; we are a tightly knit family and anyone who embraces the sport and is a true skydiver knows that you don't walk away from a fallen brother.
It wasn't until months later when I was released from the hospital that I was able to get online to begin my inquiry into the accident. I posted a message to rec.skydiving asking for any witnesses to come forward and explain to me what they saw.
Since I am unable to recall the accident at all, I have here some of the accounts received via email. With respect to the authors, I leave them all anonymous, altho they are indeed 100% real reports from eyewitnesses.
Skydiver #1 writes
"My wife saw one canopy coming in toward the landing area over there. the other canopy was making a left turn to head in the same direction. the first skydiver then tried to turn toward the right to avoid the collision but was unable to do so. the second skydiver appeared not to see the first one. mike, it is my recollection from the time that my wife said that the person making the high performance landing was "at fault" (not that this matters now) for what happened and the other jumper tried to take evasive action. this would seem to suggest that it was andy's 'fault'."
Skydiver #2 writes
"I was there, driving down the tarmak when you had your accident. I saw it all....at least the collision caught my eye and I watched as your canopy stopped its foward movement, you continued on. Your canopy started folding up as you swung forward. I really thought it would reinflate...but it didn't. You and your canopy fell out of the sky about the same time."
Skdiver #3 writes
"1) Your Jedei was travelling nearly twice as fast as Andy's Sabre knockoff, and approached in a carving turn from above. "Conservative" under a Jedei is still hauling ass. Wearing a camera helmet may have limited your view, and he most likely was in the blind spot of your flight path. Andy was hit from BEHIND, and did not appear to be turning from my vantage point. I just happened to be watching him in particular from the time he came into view below the tent skirt and the collision.
"2) Your canopy wrapped around Andy, and your excess momentum carried you around him in a nearly horizontal arc, reversing your direction. You pivoted about his body as though he wasa stationary object your canopy had snagged.
"3) Your canopy, after breaking free of Andy, flailed over your head as you fell, going from horizontally behind you to horizontally in front of you. By the last 15 meters or so, you had attained the crouch position in which you impacted."
Finally, I had several conversations with Andy Anderson himself and this is my paraphrased version of the accident as told to me by Andy (as best as I can recall what he said - I did have a hard blow to the head! ;^)
Andy was sitting in half brakes on the wind line, bleeding off altitude, preparing to land. He was just over the grassy area above the CASA loading tent, perhaps 80 feet vertically and 12 feet horizontally from the tarmac. Andy states that he noticed me over his left shoulder about 1 second before I collided with him and I was closing fast. In that time, Andy hit both his brakes hoping to generate some lift in his canopy to give his body enough room to clear my canopy.
Andy also lifted his legs (like in a crouch) to try to miss. Unfortunately the timing was such that just as he jabbed his brakes and lifted his legs, I hit him and his legs, instead of clearing my canopy, only snagged the leading edge of my canopy even more securely. He says my top skin of the canopy hit him in the left kidney.
He says that he thought he cleared my canopy, but the next thing he knows is we were swinging about very violently after turning around 180 degrees, and were now just over the runway. He kicked and kicked and finally freed my canopy from his legs/body somewhere around 60-80 feet. He says about 2/3rds of my canopy was collapsed.
He was left in a position where he was facing directly toward the ground and saw me as I impacted the ground directly below him..
If I did, indeed, hit Andy, as I am so inclined to believe, I have absolutely NO IDEA as to why I would not have seen him. I am a conservative canopy pilot and with a canopy only 3 weeks old, I know I was being more conservative than usual. It is possible I was checking out the landing area, watching Lucia, watching someone else, avoiding someone else, or simply saw Andy but decided my maneuver would not put me that close to him.
I honestly wish I knew, but I don't. I can only surmise that, for whatever reason, I did not see Andy, that he was in some sort of blind spot. Honestly, that's so hard to fathom. Since I was (supposedly) above him, I'd have to have been looking in the direction I was going to turn in to. It just doesn't make much sense... But then my battery dying when it did doesn't exactly make sense either!