Nine skydivers and two pilots are grateful to be recounting the tale of this weekend's mid-air plane collision near Superior, Wisc., that left them with only minor injuries.
As CNN reports, the five skydivers in one plane and the four in the other were preparing to jump in formation.
An Associated Press story explains that as one plane came over the top of the other, it crashed down onto it. The story then quotes Mike Robinson, an instructor and safety adviser with Skydive Superior, who was preparing to jump from the plane that was hit. "It turned into a big flash fireball and the wing separated," Robinson said. "All of us knew we had a crash. ... The wing over our head was gone, so we just left," he added.
The AP reports the pilot of that plane deployed his emergency parachute. The other plane was damaged, but its pilot was able to nurse it to a runway at Richard I. Bong Memorial Airport after the skydivers jumped.
Robinson tells the Star Tribune that during their four-minute descent the skydivers feared for their lives as they worked to avoid the flaming debris that was falling with them. “Our concern was not to get hit by anything,” he recalled. “We were in a free fall. By this time, the other wing had come off. Both wings were above us. All we could hope for, at that point, was to fall faster than those wings and somehow get away from them."
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Roland Herwig said the lead plane broke into three parts, with debris landing on the airport property and an adjacent retail area. Northland's News Center reports the pilot who parachuted from the lead plane suffered minor injuries from the impact of landing and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
The Duluth News Tribune reports the skydivers are headed to New York to tell their amazing story to NBC's Today show Monday morning. Barry Sinex, another instructor, considers the New York trip a fundraiser. Sinex tells the News Tribune the two planes that crashed were the only two that Skydive Superior owned. He estimates it will take $150,000 to get the company back in the air.
Braydon Kurtz of Superior was duck hunting along the St. Louis River when he witnessed the collision. He said he saw two planes — “one was circling down and one was going down straight.”
“We were just kind of lucky that we were at the point where we were out of the airplane,” Robinson told the News Tribune. “If we’d been back in the rear of the airplane when they collided it might have been a little bit different.”
It was not immediately clear what turned an ordinary recreational run into a collision. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.