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Cypres Save: Ali Woodhouse’s story

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When you wake up on the dropzone’s grass without knowing how you got there

Realising that Cypres saved your life…

Photo by Joe Mann

Waking Up

On October 5th 2013, my eyes flickered open and the world came gradually into focus. It was just like waking up any other day, but this time, something was off. I was not in my bed, in fact, I wasn’t in any bed – I was outside.

I quickly realised, from the grass in my peripheral vision and those who stood over me, that I had just woken up on the ground at the dropzone. My mind raced. How had I got there? Where did I go to sleep? I couldn’t remember.

I came to the only conclusion that made any sense, even if out of character that I must have had a very heavy night in the bar. How embarrassing. I opened my mouth, preparing to apologise, and asked what had happened. The answer hadn’t even occurred to me.

I had been skydiving just minutes before I woke up. During the jump, I had been involved in a collision and knocked out. My CYPRES 2 had fired and saved my life; I had landed still unconscious.

The Collision

I had been on an approach to a 12-way formation. This was when the diver following me had collided with back of my head, knocking me unconscious.

The video below shows the aftermath of the collision, which happened just off camera, including the LO and camera operator’s attempts to save me. You see the group break off as we lose altitude, and finally, the cameraman make the right choice to save himself and pull.

I occasionally wonder if those who tried to get to me might have behaved differently, had it not been a DZ rule that you must have an AAD to jump. At least the cameraflyer knew, as I fell out of sight, that I had an automatic activation device in my kit.

I continued to fall until my CYPRES fired. The next part of the story has been pieced together from discussions with those who were present.

Landing

My CYPRES Expert 2 was set to fire at the standard 750 feet. According to my digital altimeter, I was under a full canopy at 320 feet.

Despite the spinning, I opened with a single twist in my lines that immediately rectified itself. I landed, somewhat unbelievably, into the wind on the PLA.

The unconscious landing was, as you’d expect, rough. I was ambulanced to the hospital, where my neck and spine were cleared but I was told I had broken the talus bone in my ankle.

I asked when I could skydive again; the doctor responded whether I’d like to know when I’d be able to walk again. My reply was “You mean they’re not the same thing?!”

Outcomes

I spent nine days in hospital and my ankle required a pin and plate. My surgeon said he’d considered whether to pin at all, but after getting to know me, he decided it was best to ensure the ankle was as tough as possible…

I was told not to expect my ankle ever to be the same again. In the best case scenario I would probably limp for the rest of my life. All I could think about was getting back in the sky, which baffled most of the staff.

Recovery

The cutter that saved Ali’s life is now a constant reminder since being made into a keyring

My work put me on sick leave, convinced I couldn’t do my job on one foot. So I moved in with my mum for a bit. Mum completely supported my desire to get back to skydiving.

When my mother was challenged as to how she could support me returning to the dangerous sport I had been hurt doing, she responded that she felt more comfortable than ever. The worst had happened, and I had survived it. My accident only served to prove to her that my equipment does its job.

Although, she did tell me if I ever jumped without my CYPRES that I was out of the family…

Christmas rolled around, and I received probably my favourite gift in history, my partner had secretly taken the cutter (that needs to be replaced once fired) and made it into a keyring for me.

The next six months involved physio and further surgery. Finally, at the beginning of June 2014 I was signed off by my surgeon to return to skydiving. I left for the dropzone immediately.

Happy to have survived, Ali continues to skydive today.
Photo by Rob Lloyd

Back to the Sky

My first skydive back was in a borrowed suit and rig. My suit was in pieces, and I chose to upsize for my first few jumps back. The second I left that plane, it was as if I’d never been away.

I put together a late season 4-way team, including two of my former FS students – they catch up fast when you’re out of action!

We entered BPA Nationals in the ‘A’ category, and much to our surprise took bronze. I’ve never hopped so high or screamed so loud in my life.

We went onto take silver at the Revenge tunnel meet, which was on the first anniversary of my accident. Exactly a year after an accident that could well have killed me, I had two national medals under my belt.

Oh, and no limp.

Ali and her team celebrate the bronze medal at the 2014 British Nationals
Photo by Charlie Pearce

I Am Not Lucky

As a final thought, one thing I hear a lot is how “lucky” I am. I disagree. I was not lucky. Freefall collisions resulting in a KO are rare, especially in FS. In that respect, I was very unlucky.

“Yes,” I hear you say “but after the collision had happened, you were lucky to live.” I feel luck was a small aspect of my survival. I was lucky that I happened to land onto the PLA and into the wind, but the aspects that saved my life were very much choice.

I chose to put the CYPRES 2 in my rig; I picked a good AAD that did its job when I needed it to. I decided to wear a helmet that broke instead of my skull. I had a good reserve, packed well by a professional.

What saved me was good technology and the appropriate application of it. I didn’t survive because of luck. I survived because of CYPRES.

I have gone on to do 300 more jumps with that same CYPRES 2 and, when it expires, you can bet I’ll be getting another.

After all, I promised my mother.

I didn’t survive because of luck. I survived because of CYPRES

Ali kept jumping and lately specialised in cameraflying.
Photo shows Ali filming at the Autumn Bigway Camp 2021 at Skydive Hibaldstow, by Simon Brentford

Article by the Cypres Team, published on the Cypres blog here

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