A chat with Dag Hernes

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Dag Hernes could so easily not be with us after a tandem malfunction incident over Titusville…

Investigators gather at the accident site in Titusville

Dag, could you tell us in your own words, what happened?

Hospital Selfie by Dag Hernes

It was a nice and sunny day and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. At 18,000 feet I exited the plane pretty much as I always do from the King Air like a straight out poised exit. I was stable when I threw the drogue. However it felt like a little slow and different pitch, perhaps some of the bridle or the drogue itself got in my burble. I was surprised to feel my ankle resting on the inside of the drogue after it was fully inflated. I did a couple of attempts to get my foot clear of the bridle but I didn’t manage to do so.

I decided to just pull my reserve. I looked up and could see the free bag slip off the parachute and suddenly to my surprise I had a severe reserve malfunction, a bad tension knot on the right side preventing the slider to come down almost at all, and the parachute started to rotate fast right away. Much of the lines were like spaghetti and looked really bad. My first thought was, ‘I have to fix this now!’.

My first thought was, ‘I have to fix this now!'”

I released the right toggle and attempted to pull it down really hard, but the right brake line was all stuck up in the spaghetti, it was harder for me to reach for the left toggle. Both the left risers were kind of away from me due to the configuration of the canopy but I managed to pull the left toggle down but it didn’t make a difference at all. At this point I just kept pulling and pulling, desperate to improve the parachute. We were descending very, very fast and spinning and I was getting very dizzy. I don’t think my student was awake at this point. The analytical side of me told me it would be impossible to survive landing with such a high vertical speed. I kept an eye on the ground and what was coming: highways, huge brick buildings and just really bad stuff.

I kept an eye on the ground and what was coming: highways, huge brick buildings and just really bad stuff”

At this point I was perhaps around five thousand feet. I decided to attempt opening the main into what I had out in a last effort to slow down some. I remember thinking that I should time it, as the window with an open main not rotating was very short. I kicked off my shoe in an attempt to clear the drogue bridle. At this point the bridle was like a tail between my legs. I’m not sure if I managed or not but I released the drogue. I could feel that the bag for the main left the container but it took a little while for the parachute to come out. The bag must have been spinning because the main had several line twists but things did slow down.

My student woke up at this point and asked me if it was over, I told him, “Not yet”.The parachutes started going into a down-plane at this point. I asked him to take a fetal position and cover his head. The ground was really coming now. I could see a street, a house and a tree. Next a big bang. We hit an oak tree and then the ground really hard. A big part of the tree broke off. We were both somewhat awake and I tried to comfort my student. We both could wiggle out toes and fingers. A guy working on the roof of the house called 911. We were helicoptered to two different hospitals.

How grateful do you feel to be alive? 

I’m very grateful to be alive. Almost scary because I can’t quite comprehend how survival was possible. 

Will this experience change your attitude to life, the sport or in any way in the future? 

I’m sure it will. Life has given me a second chance and I feel a responsibility kinda to make the most out of it and make it special and see that others will benefit from my existence.

It seems you’re very lucky to have no life-changing injuries.  How long will it take you to recover? 

I’m unsure at this point about how long the physical  recovery will take. Lots of physical therapy as I get better I believe will be the key to the best possible recovery.

How is it going for you in hospital?

Good! ORMC is a very good hospital and everyone from the surgeons to the nurses and everyone else have been amazing!!!

You’ve had a lot of support from around the world. Does this make any difference for you?

Wow, yes! I didn’t know I had so many friends actually. It’s been just amazing and also emotional to receive so much love and concerns from so many people in the sport and outside the sport from all over the world. I’m stunned and amazed about that!!! Very, very blessed and grateful!!

How many jumps do you have, and how many tandem jumps as instructor?

I have about 16,000 jumps. Of those close to 10,000 are tandems.

Was there anything unusual before the freefall part of the jump?


Why do you think the reserve malfunctioned?

I have about 25 tandem cut aways. Very often because the total weight of the lines and the reserve itself inside the freebag has a little bit slower speed up to line stretch and the lines kinda dance a bit more on the way up till the freebag has done its job. I think if you have a bad day this can easily contribute to a tension knot. This was my second reserve tension knot and by far the worst.

You had an intense battle for survival on the way down. How did you try to fix it and how long did this go on for? 

The battle consisted of trying to slow down the speed before impact.

How tiring was it?

It was very tiring much so due to the rotations under the reserve.

Do you think you would be here now if you hadn’t opened the main at the last minute?

No, I’m sure I would be gone, as well as my passenger.

How was your state of mind throughout the problem?

Well you don’t want to give up. I really tried over and over to improve the reserve by pulling really hard on the toggles hoping that some of the knot would let go. Other thoughts were on when the main should be deployed and maybe how I could contribute to make the main parachute to work with and not against what I already had out.

Well Dag we are so glad you made the choices you did, saving your passenger and yourself. Thank you so much for talking to us and we wish you a full and quick recovery.

Dag sharing a ‘recovery and love’ post on Norway’s National Day

CNN News Report of the incident here.

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Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
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