North Yorkshire dad plummeted to his death on skydive after being given a parachute with holes in
A North Yorkshire man who died after a skydive went wrong was given a parachute with holes patched over.
Christopher Swales, 55, was taking part in a skydive over the Grand Canyon back in September 2019, as a 30th anniversary present from his wife Deborah.
A coroner ruled that his death was accidental, after an inquest in Northallerton today (Monday).
The couple, from Harrogate, were on holiday in Arizona where they renewed their wedding vows. Mr Swales was a self-employed joiner and the couple had two children.
They booked his skydive with a company called Paragon Skydiving.
The inquest, at Northallerton, heard that thrill-seeker Mr Swales was partnered with an experienced military instructor, Matthew McGonagle, for his tandem jump.
In a statement, Matthew McGonagle said everything was normal on the morning of the jump. He stated that the winds were high at 27mph – two miles more than allowed in the UK for a skydive to take place.
But the American Air Force expert had jumped many times in those conditions.
Freefalling at speed
Mr Swales and his instructor jumped out of a Cessna aircraft, and the parachute was opened. Minutes later, witnesses on the ground say the men began freefalling down at speed.
When they hit the ground, Mr Swales suffered serious injuries. Staff on the ground performed CPR on him, but he was later pronounced dead. Matthew McGonagle had broken his leg. An ambulance and police were called.
From his hospital bed Mr McGonagle asked about his jumping partner. He became very upset when he was told Mr Swales had died.
The 34-year-old told US police that he felt the pressure change as they approached the landing area, and he suspected the parachute had collapsed. After hitting the ground, he remembered little else other than medical staff and being taken to hospital.
The inquest heard how Mr McGonagle worked at the US Air Force as a jump master, and he had performed more than 1,500 jumps. He had an additional weekend job with Paragon Skydiving.
The owner of Paragon Skydiving, Jason Theuma, watched the jump from the ground.
In a statement to police, Mr Theuma, 38, said that all the equipment was functioning correctly but maintained that Mr McGonagle must have panicked once he realised they were going to miss the landing area.
Mr Theuma said he saw his employee attempt an, ‘aggressive left turn, midair’. He told officers that he saw the two men hit the ground, ‘at high speed in a loud boom and a cloud of dust’ 100 yards away from the landing zone.
US police took the parachute from Paragon’s offices, as part of their investigation into Christopher Swales’ death. Their police report states that they found ‘numerous patches sewn into the fabric’.
Defects or holes in the material had been circled with a pen. Police closed their investigation after ruling Christopher Swales’ death as accidental.
Today, North Yorkshire coroner Jonathan Heath concluded: “It appears there was nothing untoward at the start of the free fall parachute jump. It then appeared that the landing site was going to be missed.
“A manoeuvre was performed. The parachute did not recover from that manoeuvre which led to the free fall. On the balance of probabilities… this was an accident’.
Seven family of Mr Swales’ family members sat silently listening. Two of them began crying as they made a statement: “It is important for these proceedings to establish the facts. Chris had a very full life, full of love and exciting fun times.
“We had many good times. That is how we are going to remember him.”