A Danish skydiver survived a life-threatening mishap May 4 when his foot was caught in a cable and he was trapped under the airplane. The parachutist, a man of 45 not further identified in news reports from Denmark and England, suffered only scratches and strained groin muscles, according to published reports.
The jumper and an instructor were departing a Cessna 182 flown by Leif Johannsen, a pilot with 37 years’ experience. Some reports suggest that a fouled static line trapped the jumper, but in any case he remained attached to the airplane, dangling by his foot.
After the two jumpers exited his plane, Johannsen prepared to land at Lindtorp airfield outside Holstebro, Jutland, about 190 miles northwest of Copenhagen. Meanwhile, the instructor landed and called the airport tower, and the pilot learned via radio that he had a problem.
Johannsen, nearing the airport, was down to 500 meters when he heard about his external passenger. He climbed back to 1,000 meters (about 3,280 ft) to give the trapped parachutist altitude for a good chute deployment should he come loose.
An ambulance helicopter arrived and followed the Cessna, as all parties aloft and on the ground explored options. Alone in the cabin, Johannsen could not reach the skydiver to free him, and no air-to-air rescue involving the helicopter seemed possible.
So the Cessna continued to fly for about an hour, burning off fuel to lighten the airplane while authorities on the ground sprayed fire retardant foam on a grassy area of the airfield, pointedly opting for grass vice a paved runway. The foam and the grass, it was hoped, would reduce the friction against the jumper’s body.
The skydiver remained calm, according to reports, and understood what was about to happen. Up in the cabin of the Cessna, Johannsen wondered if he was about to kill a man. The Kansas-built Cessna 182, a four-seat fixed-gear high-wing cabin monoplane ideal for sport parachuting operations, stalls nominally at 54 knots, and Johannsen was making an effort to bring the plane onto the grass at its slowest possible speed. The skydiver, protected somewhat by his jump suit, helmet and goggles, was dragged about 200 meters (670 ft). Rescuers disconnected his foot from its trap and he emerged, conscious and alert with only incidental injuries.
“It was a nightmare scenario that I have seen others experience before. A scenario in which there is no rulebook on how the problem should be solved. It only went well because we worked together. People on the ground and me in the air with a calm skydiver waiting for us to help him,” Johannsen told television reporters on the scene.
A policeman nearby reportedly quipped, “There’s no use for that fellow to play the lottery this week. His luck is all used up.”