Spinning violently out of control as he fell toward Earth and an almost-certain death at hundreds of miles per hour, skydiver Michael Holmes had a split second to consider his demise when his parachute and a reserve failed high above New Zealand in December.
“Oh, [expletive]! I'm dead. Bye,” said Holmes, who landed in a bush and lived to tell about it in an exclusive interview on TODAY on Monday.
Holmes' harrowing escape from death, desperate farewell, wave goodbye and hard landing in a blackberry bush were captured by the helmet-mounted cameras he and fellow skydiving instructor Jonathan King donned Dec. 13 before jumping from a plane at 14,000 feet — more than two miles up.
An expert skydiver and canopy parachutist, Holmes, 24, said he was concerned but did not panic when his main chute failed about 4,000 feet above the ground. He knew the primary chute had deployed, but could not see that it had become entangled with the backpack that housed the chute and a reserve.
Falling back on his extensive experience and training, Holmes ignored his out-of-control spinning — 84 revolutions in all — and worked to free the main chute to clear way for the reserve to open. Time was running out, and Holmes knew it.
“It was when I pulled the chute cable to release the reserve parachute that I thought, ‘This is bad,’ ” Holmes recalled. “Looking back on it, I'm amazed I didn't pass out. I almost passed out.”
As King watched in horror from above, Holmes made a last desperate attempt to avert tragedy just 1,000 feet up. The reserve chute could slow the descent, but he knew it was too late to avoid a hard landing and likely death.
“I'm thinking, ‘I've got to get this parachute that's still attached to me off,’ ” Holmes said. “[The reserve's] either going to make things worse, or there's a very slight chance it's going to make it better.”
Holmes cut away the main chute, and pulled the cord for the reserve chute. When that didn't work, there was nothing left for Holmes to do but think of something to say into the helmet camera. “I thought, ‘Oh, I've got a camera on my head. Say something,’ ” Holmes recalled.
In hindsight, Holmes realizes that “I'm dead. Bye” didn't really cover everything the British citizen wanted to say to his family and friends. King told TODAY's Matt Lauer that he, too, thought Holmes was a goner.
“The first feeling was it's not good. You get the kind of sinking feeling in your stomach when something's bad,” King said. “From where I was up in the sky, I actually heard him hit the ground, which was strange because there was a lot of noise. I really expected him to be dead, or very close to it.”
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Holmes' camera captured his desperate attempts to get his chutes to work, his farewell to the camera and his fast, hard landing into a blackberry bush in a conservation area near a New Zealand lake. A short time later, King's camera captured a moaning Holmes laying in the bush in the fetal position.
He suffered a collapsed lung and broken ankle that may require further surgery, but plans to jump again. He called the incident a “freak accident” that has changed the way he looks it life.
“I will certainly jump. It's what I do. I love it,” Holmes said.
— John Springer, contributor for TODAY
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