Skydiver lives to recount parachute failure

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by ANDRIA BORBA / KTXL

KTXL

Posted on March 15, 2013 at 8:06 AM

LODI, California — A California skydiver hit the ground at 30 mph and lived to tell the story.

Craig Stapleton's terrifying fall was caught on camera.

To look at Stapleton today, you'd never know he survived Sunday's crash landing.

"I knew it was bad when I was living it," he said. "When I saw the video I said, 'Wow. That's a lot worse than I thought! How did I walk away from that? How did I manage to survive?'"

Stapleton, a master of 7,000 skydiving jumps, was testing a flag-release stunt with jump partner Katie Nelson when things began going wrong.

Very wrong.

"The speed of the deployment was too much, and it actually flipped me through the risers of my parachute and fouled my parachute," Stapleton explained.

That's when Stapleton began spinning. He said it felt like most of his life.

During that three-minute spin, Stapleton deployed his reserve chute, but it got stuck in the already-tangled primary chute.

As he was trying to survive, Nelson was watching, powerless to help her jump partner.

"I was pretty sure I was about to watch my friend die," she said.

Stapleton dropped out of the sky in the middle of an Acampo vineyard.

"I landed parallel to the grapes," he said.

That landing spot was juste a few feet away from iron grape stakes in freshly-plowed dirt.

"One of my last thoughts before I hit was, 'I really hope I don't hit an iron spike, because it'll just be messy,'" Stapleton said.

Nelson, who is a nurse, landed, dropped her chute, and ran for Stapleton.

"I was expecting a traumatic head injury," she said, convinced he was dead.

"I couldn't believe that his head was sticking up," she said. "I was like, 'No, he's just twitching.'"

"I hurt quite a bit, and in my mind I thought, 'That's a really good sign. I'm really hurting. That's a good thing,'" Stapleton said. "And then I tried to get up."

He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found no broken bones and no internal bleeding — just a dislocated shoulder and some major bumps and bruises.

"I completely lucked out," Stapleton said. "God watches out for idiots and puppy dogs, and he just let me live and walk away."

You'd think slamming into the ground at 30 mph would sway Craig Stapleton from ever skydiving again.

You'd be wrong.

"This weekend is out, but I think next I'll be back in the air," he said.

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