Skydiver death ‘accidental’

13:29 05 February 2013

Archant

Record breaking parachutist went into uncontrolled spin after diving from a cliff in Switzerland.

A record breaking skydiver died when he went into an uncontrolled spin during a 5,000 foot BASE jump from a notorious cliff face in Switzerland, an inquest has heard.

Gary Harbird, 28, died on the High Ultimate jump in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, as he undertook a daredevil dive from a platform at the top of a near vertical cliff.

A coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death after hearing how the experienced parachute instructor crashed into the cliff face then fell into trees on the steep wooded slope beneath.

His helmet was torn off by the impact and he died of massive head injuries in the accident in January 2011, the inquest at Exeter was told.

Gary held records as the youngest skydiver and youngest instructor and had devoted his life to the sport from the age of 16, making 8,000 parachute jumps and more than 400 BASE jumps.

He became Britain’s youngest parachutist when he jumped at Dunkeswell less than a week after his 16th birthday and still holds the world record as the youngest qualified instructor.

He grew up in Honiton, Devon, but moved to America while just 16 and lived near the DropZone centre at Orange County, Boston, Massachusetts, where he was an instructor.

He was on a BASE jumping trip to the Alps after spending Christmas with his family in St Leonards Road, Honiton, when he died.

Greater Devon coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland recorded a verdict of accidental death after receiving documents from police in the Bernese Oberland detailing their investigation.

She said: “It appears he went into a spin and opened his parachute. The helmet which may have protected him was knocked off in the fall. I am satisfied he went into an accelerated spin and collided with a cliff.

“He fell and became entangled in a tree and suffered fatal head injuries. I am satisfied he died instantaneously during this activity, which he was doing by his own volition. The proper verdict is accidental death.”

The inquest at County Hall in Exeter was told he suffered massive head injuries in the fall on the morning of January 24, 2011 from the High Ultimate platform at Lauterbrunnen Valley.

He was jumping with friend and fellow skydiver Christopher Peterson and was the first to go off the platform.

In a statement to Swiss police Mr Peterson said: “Gary was the first to jump and took his position on the platform. He walked forwards and took off strongly.

“I tracked his jump and noticed he found himself in a dangerous situation and went into a spin. I took off and could see his parachute was already open, which was a bad sign.

“His parachute disappeared from view and did not appear again. I dropped into the Schilform Valley and saw his parachute hanging off the Murrenfleu.

“I tried calling to him but realised he was probably unconscious. I contacted the emergency services with the help of a passer-by.”

The police report concluded: “After jumping he went into an accelerated spin and in this dangerous position he activated and opened his parachute but collided with the cliffs.

“He suffered fatal head injuries and the helmet he was wearing was ripped off and never recovered. He opened the parachute but dropped out of control and came to rest 200 metres from the Murrenfleu.

“The circumstances indicate an accident in which there was no third party or criminal proceedings.”

After the case Gary’s mother Alison said: “He devoted his life to sky diving and parachuting and was a very experienced instructor who knew what he was doing.

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