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Parachute fails, skydiver drops to death

Chennai, Jan. 30: A 26-year-old homemaker who was training in skydiving today fell to her death before the eyes of her horrified husband when her parachute failed to open fully.

It was unclear whether V. Ramya was carrying the mandatory emergency parachute or knew how to operate one when she dived from 10,000 feet over an unused Tamil Nadu airstrip during an Indian Skydiving and Parachute Association (ISPA) practice session.

Husband Vinod, who was in the aircraft waiting his turn to dive, told police that neither of the two instructors on board told his wife what to do when the parachute failed to open although she had a micro-headphone fitted to her helmet.

“Not only did they not guide her properly, the instructors fled the scene (after the plane landed),” the 28-year-old businessman from Bangalore alleged.

Late tonight, four people including two instructors were arrested after a lookout notice had been put out for the ISPA officials and instructors conducting the session.

Vinod, Ramya and skydiving trainers whom the police named as Mohan Rao and Ash had taken a small flight from Salem airport, 325km from Chennai, at 11am and reached the skies above the nearby Kamalapuram airstrip.

“Once the aircraft reached 10,000 feet, the instructors asked Ramya to jump,” Vinod told the police.

“She was supposed to open the parachute once she reached 6,000ft. But it failed to open properly and started to spin around her body because of the heavy winds.”

Ramya dropped to the ground “like a stone”, Vinod said, and was declared dead on arrival at a hospital.

Inspector S. Kumaresan at the local Omalur police station said a case of culpable homicide had been registered and investigations were on.

The ISPA had been conducting skydiving practice at Salem since January 25.

Aswath Narayanan, one of the participants, said ISPA authorities first gave ground-based training.

“The next day, they allowed us to jump from 3,000ft and those who completed it successfully could dive from 10,000ft.”

Ramya had taken the 3,000ft jump yesterday, following which the instructors allowed her to take the 10,000ft jump today, he said.

M. Anush, the local assistant collector, said further skydiving had been banned at the airfield till the completion of a detailed scan of the safety measures undertaken by the organisers.

In the US, first-time skydivers are not allowed to jump on their own but have to do it strapped to an experienced diver.

“Only after six tandem jumps and a series of ground-based tests are skydivers allowed to jump on their own,” said P. Mahalingam, a Chennai-based businessman who says he skydives regularly during his US trips but never risks it in India.

Enthusiasts say it’s unclear how well Indian skydiving associations observe a range of norms, from regular checking of the parachutes to the instructors taking refresher courses. Four persons have been arrested, including two instructors.