Dateline   |  November 08, 2013

'Miracle on the Sunset Dive' part 4

The skydivers are now airborne, at 12-thousand feet, each thinking the others are dead.

Share This:

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

>> all the skydivers from both the chase and lead planes had bailed out and were freefalling amid the burning wreckage. on the ground, three duck hunters saw it all play out.

>> we heard the noise and looked up and saw a big orange ball of flames and black smoke . and as the one that was on fire was going down, the engine revved up super high and --

>> people started jumping.

>> it started spiralling.

>> it looked like they didn't have any parachutes on or anything because it was right after they collided. i watched them jump out and saw it collide and break apart and the plane started on fire and starting going down.

>> high above the hunters, the skydivers were fighting for their lives.

>> the last thing i heard was trish scream but i didn't feel like there was anything that i could do for that.

>> dan chandler, who had been pinned for a time between the planes, had no idea that his girlfriend trish was safe but he could see that the lead plane piloted by his good friend matt fandler was plummeting to earth. dan increased his air space , closing the distance between himself and the damaged plane.

>> i saw matt's plane with the one remaining wing falling relatively slowly. i stayed on my back and dropped into what we call head down to accelerate as fast as i could to try to get to that to go save my friend, my pilot. i wanted to go get him so bad.

>> i think that's when this almost takes on a supernatural quality, a superhero quality. i don't think anybody can understand that you in the air can think, i can go catch that plane and have some impact on what happens to him. what were your thoughts?

>> i didn't see any other jumpers. i just didn't want to be the only person to survive this and i wanted it -- if i could do something for matt, i wish i would have saw him leave and knew he was safe. i just didn't want to, you know, be a few survivors. i didn't think in a million years everybody walked away from this.

>> how long were you freefalling?

>> i guess i didn't have a chance. it's typically about 60 seconds .

>> all right. during that 60 seconds , were you able to pick out any of your fellow skydivers?

>> during the freefall i did not see one skydiver.

>> dan could not catch up with matt.

>> i think it went something from like 200 miles an hour to 300 miles an hour. in a split second it was gone and there was absolutely nothing i could do. i had to accept that there was nothing that i could do.

>> what dan didn't know is that his friend, matt, the pilot, was doing everything that he could to save his own life.

>> now the plane is going straight down, basically?

>> i begin to pick up more and more air speed . i realize that i have no control of this aircraft and probably thought it was in my best interest to not be in this aircraft.

>> you're harnessed into that seat?

>> well, after i make the decision that i'm no longer going to be in this airplane, i took the seat belt off and looked to my right and saw that the door was opened. it was actually gone. it was gone with the wing. and i reached out with my right hand to hold on to the outside part of the door and i just jumped headfirst.

>> matt, like all pilots carrying skydivers, was wearing a parachute. unlike the jumpers that he was ferrying, he was far from an expert.

>> how many times have you jumped out of a plane?

>> two. this was my third jump.

>> and the other two times that you had jumped out of a plane, you had instructors with you?

>> uh-huh. i had them flying, freefalling right next to me.

>> this was the first time that you were now leaving a plane and you're going to free-fall on your own?

>> uh-huh.

>> and now without those instructors to guide him, he'd have to make a split second decision that could mean life or death.

>> so after 30 seconds of free fall , what altitude do you think you were at?

>> i tried to roughly estimate that i was between 4 and 5,000 feet because as a student i remembered that that's the altitude that you want to pull at and just from my previous two jumps of what i could visualize was roughly that altitude i pulled.

>> that tiny round dot was matt's parachute. it had been less than a minute that the planes collided and now across a darkening sky, one by one they were deploying their parachutes but with the wreckage around them, the skydivers were far from safe. when and where they deployed was crucial.

>> the point during freefall, you're flying faster than the debris but when you're pulling your chute, the debris is going to continue in freefall.

>> so you want to be in a place when you pull the cord that you've got nothing above you?

>> i didn't know really where anyone was, including chad, until pair chutes started opening.

>> when you pulled your cord and got on your canopy, i imagine the first thing you start to do is count your body parts, you want to make sure you're not injured?

>> i thought -- i knew i was okay, that i didn't lose a leg or an arm or anything. i knew i was okay. i deployed my parachute, turned around right away because i was still facing northwest. to find that falling debris still and to find my fellow friends, family, jumpers. i think i'm just assuming that everybody's dead. because really, who survives that? it just didn't seem possible.

>> i remember looking up to see what was up there and i remember seeing like a ball of fire, which i think was a wing.

>> once she deployed her parachute, trish 's fear turned to hope. across the horizon, she started to see other parachutes open and she knew she wasn't alone.

>> i saw dan 's chute open below me, chad, i think i remember seeing lanaya.

>> if everyone had left the plane safely, there should have been 11 chutes in the air but it was unclear if all of the jumpers had made it, and what about the pilots?