MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One of the skydivers forced to jump to safety after two planes collided in northern Wis. said Monday that he feels very lucky to be alive.
The two planes collided at 12,000 feet near the Richard I. Bong Airport in Superior, Wis. Saturday afternoon, causing one plane to lose its wing and catch on fire.
Authorities say the two planes were carrying a group of nine skydivers for a tandem jump. But when the planes reached 12,000 feet, the trail plane came over the top of the lead plane and got caught up in its turbulence. The planes then collided, and the lead plane lost its right wing and started on fire.
Mike Robinson was one of the skydivers on that frightening day. He was preparing for his final jump of the day – the 937th skydive jump in his career – when he heard a loud bang, followed by an explosion. Before he knew it, he and his fellow jumpers were in a complete free fall.
Robinson said he and his jumpers were about three or four seconds away from jumping on a normal skydive when the planes collided.
“Normally, we would probably have about 50 feet of separation (between the two planes) and we had that at the time we were climbing out of the aircraft. They just drifted too close together,” he said.
He said once the two planes hit, he and the other skydivers didn’t have a chance to grab on to anything and were flung into an instant free fall.
“We knew we were in trouble at that point,” he said. “Kind of what we had to do was be concerned about getting away from the debris.”
Robinson said he could see the detached wing above them.
“Sort of the odd thing that struck me when I was watching this happen was the wing actually went up above us,” he said. “So the skydivers in my airplane were falling faster than that wing was. It was on fire above us.”
Robinson said they were in free fall for about 45 or 60 seconds and in that time, they were able to position themselves away from debris by cupping air beneath them and scooting across the sky.
“We can get a half mile away,” he said.
Luckily, none of the debris got close to any of the skydivers – Robinson said the most dangerous part was definitely the collision.
Robinson said the Federal Aviation Administration is conducting an investigation into why the two planes collided.
The pilot was already wearing an emergency parachute and used that to escape. Robinson said he was also in free fall for about 30 seconds before he was able to pull the shoot.
Emergency crews brought the pilot, who suffered minor injuries upon landing, to an area hospital.
Robinson said in the hundreds of times he’s skydived, he’s never had an incident even close to this.
“I’ve never had any experience even close to this,” he said.
Robinson said they feel incredibly lucky that everyone was OK. It’s actually a miracle they are, he said.
“They only had some bumps and bruises,” he said. “The only real injury came to the pilot in my airplane who had some lacerations on his hand that required medical assistance. But the rest of us, just bumps and bruises, no big deal.”
He said there’s always a safety plan in place but something just went wrong. He said both pilots involved in this particular jump are highly experienced.
“They’re both very good pilots,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit for being able to first of all, the one to save his life and the other one, he had the damaged airplane and was able to land it. That was amazing.”
Superior, Wis., is opposite Duluth on Superior Bay.