Dateline   |  November 08, 2013

'Miracle on the Sunset Dive' part 2

The team in the lead plane is thrown from their aircraft and pilot Matt Fandler must decide whether he will stay with the plane or attempt his first solo skydive.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> the skies of northwest wisconsin. two small planes carried a group of skydivers as they ascended for a sunset dive. skydivers lennay is wearing the white sweater.

>> was there anything casual about it or is there precision?

>> it's precision. we want to know, all right, you're going to be in this spot in the sky, this is where you're going to fly into and this is where you're going to fly into so everybody knows , plan the dive, dive the plan.

>> but for all 11 aboard both planes, there was no plan for what was about to happen. "dateline" created these graphics to approximate the sequence of the events cht the two aircraft, a lead plane and a chase plane move towards each other for the jump. here's how it unfolded in the lead plane.

>> so you get to that altitude, those planes are supposed to be close together?

>> right.

>> all right. who opens the door?

>> the pilot does. then we'll make sure that we are at where we want to be to jump out.

>> as the team in the lead plane was getting into position, its pilot, matt fchl andler, was working the radio.

>> all right. you got the climb up to 12,000 feet. what's the communication at that point with the other plane?

>> well, when we discussed in the preflight is that i needed to call when my door was opening and i needed to tell blake so that he could prepare his jump.

>> blake's the other pilot of the other plane?

>> right. so i radioed to him that my door's opening and as they are climbing out, i radioed to him that my jumpers are climbing out.

>> that's lennay, about to do the countdown to the jump. ready, set, and then out of the blue it happened. it threw lennay from her perch. this graphic gives us a good idea of how the two aircraft would have appeared when they collided in midair.

>> let's stop there. what goes through your mind when you've just been thrown off an airplane, you felt a jolt, you have no idea what caused it, and you look up and there's a ball of flame.

>> i thought everyone was gone.

>> you couldn't see anybody else?

>> as i think about it for that little split second, i thought everybody was gone.

>> his plane was already engulfed in a fireball. pilot matt fandler sfraptrapped in by a lap belt didn't know what happened.

>> could you see the shadow of the plane?

>> i didn't see anything, no. i just heard a bang and the windshield immediately shattered.

>> let's take a look at john's camera. john is in the plane with you.

>> uh-huh. that's the impact. you smile a little bit.

>> i had absolutely no idea that this is what it actually looked like.

>> did you see the fireball?

>> no.

>> at that point do you know if you still had one wing on the plane or did the second wing come off pretty quickly?

>> i didn't notice that any of the wings were gone. i was staring straight ahead and first thing i remember thinking is i need to regain control of this airplane and i immediately pulled the yoke back to my chest and pulled it back as far as i possibly could.

>> at that point, matt was caught in a flaming death trap .

>> when you saw your plane nose-down with one or two wings missing --

>> uh-huh.

>> -- you also have to think -- and any pilot does -- that's a weapon now.

>> uh-huh.

>> that's a destructive weapon heading to the ground.

>> my first fear was that it was going to hit a residential area, like a house or the road and hit a car and, you know, cause harm to other people.

>> yeah, but there was nothing you could have done to steer that plane away from its event course.

>> and that was my biggest fear, since i had no control, it was, you know, up to fate.

>> but for what seemed like an eternity, matt remained at the controls. in the same moments lennay was struggling to control herself and struggling to avoid the wreckage raining down around her.

>> i was flying north-northeast and to the right of me i saw the wing, one of the wings and another piece of the plane on fire.

>> just kind of tumbling?

>> so i kept turning my body more northwest to get away from it.

>> do you have any idea how close you came to the closest piece of debris?

>> i think the closest was -- that i felt was when i got knocked off onto my back and i saw it go up in flames. i thought it was coming right down on top of me.

>> we look at the video shot from these five different cameras and, boy, you can see flaming debris everywhere.

>> everywhere.

>> you say you made a conscious effort to try to get the heck away from that debris.

>> yeah. i've never -- it's called tracking, where we drive our bodies in a straight line to get distance from, you know, other jumpers before we deploy our parachutes and i've never tracked so hard in my life or in my jumping career.

>> as the seconds ticked by, each of the skydivers was in a freefall and each thought the others were dead.

>> i was petrified for the first couple seconds because i thought half the people i knew just went down with the plane. at that point, i didn't see people climbing out at first.

>> john rodrigo was on the lead plane.

>> the first, you know, from 12,000 feet to 3,000 feet, i couldn't really account for anybody. i mean, it was just -- everybody was just gone.

>> his girlfriend sarah parine couldn't see him either. she was on the other plane.

>> as soon as i got free, i'm like, oh, my god, where is johnny? and he couldn't find me.

>>> coming up -- the action