Dateline   |  November 08, 2013

'Miracle on the Sunset Dive' part 5

Eyewitnesses and first responders rush to the Duluth airport drop zone.

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

>>> last saturday evening, firefighters at the city of superior fire department were kicking back looking forward to a good bowl of soup for dinner. but then they heard something strange. battalion chief vern johnson.

>> i heard an airplane noise outside the window. it's not characteristic. it sounded low.

>> you could see a ball of fire here.

>> a ball of fire?

>> yep.

>> within minutes, the county's emergency call center was fielding a steady stream of calls.

>> are you still there?

>> is it in flames?

>> the chief ordered his three engines out. [ sirens ]

>> and headed to the nearby airport looking for a crash site.

>> you look for a black plume of smoke and something that's identifiable from a distance and we approach the airport and we really couldn't see anything.

>> except for a few skydivers.

>> when i pulled out, i could see parachuters in the sky.

>> on a normal evening, that's not an unusual site out here but this was hardly a normal evening.

>> we have fires and debris and crash sites. i was looking for fire, really.

>> looking for fire, not knowing that all around him miracles were happening. survivors were dropping midair from the sky, having dodged debris from a burning plane and then landing. as incredible as it seems, right in the drop zone . chad ebling, amy olson's fiancee, was the first down.

>> first of all, it was amazing to me, he landed exactly where you were supposed to land. you know, i think under those circumstances, i would have been happy landing ten miles away but you landed right there at the drop zone . what happened when you hit the ground?

>> as soon as i landed, i took my gear off as quickly as i could. one of the students was there watching.

>> he saw it all from the ground.

>> and he and i immediately looked up and counted all of the parachutes just to make sure we knew where everybody was and everybody was okay.

>> as soon as lanaya landed, she started counting her friends as well.

>> and one by one, their feet are hitting the ground. can you describe that moment?

>> it sends chills all over your body. that huge sigh of relief. i aimed my parachute, i started landing so i could land towards my girlfriend. i took my parachute off right away and just ran over to her. i've never been so happy in my life to see her standing there and i look over a little bit further down the runway and see the rest of the jumpers walking around, talking. and i never have been so happy in my life to see these -- these people, these friends, my family.

>> within minutes, all nine jumpers were accounted for and all over the drop zone they were gathering each other up, shocked and somber.

>> i came in and landed second next to chad, gave him a big hug, was relieved that he was okay, standing up.

>> hardly daring to believe they were safe.

>> it's like, we all just survived that? it doesn't seem like -- you know, is this real? did this really just happen? it definitely still does not seem real.

>> but while the others were veteran jumpers, matt fandler, the pilot of the plane that burst into flames was a newbie.

>> how hard did you hit?

>> i would say reasonably hard. it was hard to tell because i hadn't done anything like that before but it was definitely harder than the other two jumps that i took.

>> and you land, you roll over , what do you do? do you set up, count your limbs.

>> i laid on the ground to get the air out of the parachute. i was worried about the parachute catching air and dragging me.

>> how long did that take?

>> about five seconds.

>> and once you got the air out of the parachute were you able to get it off you?

>> uh-huh. yeah.

>> how soon after that did you see some of the people on your team?

>> it was probably about 30 seconds after. i saw johnny and i saw trish like on the runway.

>> this selfie tells it all, his face cut by shards of glass from the windshield. [ crying ]

>> not far from the runway, amy olson was safe but she couldn't stop crying.

>> i can hear how emotional you were at the moment.

>> good to be down. we have a saying, um, you'd rather be on the ground wishing i was in the air than in the air wishing i was on the ground and that it felt really good to be on the ground. i hadn't seen that one yet.

>> maybe not your best look ever. but you know what, you're on the ground.

>> yeah.

>> at that point, amy , did you realize everybody had survived?

>> still pretty uncertain about blake at that point.

>> blake wedan, pilot of the chase plane , was still missing. dan chandler remembers looking up after he landed and feeling horror-struck.

>> you look in the air and you see that burning wing spiralling down slowly to the ground. you thought that was the plane?

>> i thought that was blake . and that's the plane i was in. and blake -- it's weird to say, but the pilot of that plane and i was like, god, we lost everything.