The inquest into the death of Chris Jones, Head of Chemistry at Wellington School, has concluded that he was knocked unconscious when his parachute opened too quickly.
Chris Jones (61), a qualified parachuting instructor and licenced sky diver who had made 1021 jumps since 1987, was killed whilst parachuting at Dunkeswell Aerodrome in July last year.
A report by the British Parachuting Association (BPA) concluded that there was no fault with his equipment which he had packed himself but that the parachute had opened immediately instead of taking four or five seconds. Jeffrey Montgomery, BPA safety and technical officer, said Mr Jones experienced “an almost instantaneous opening of his parachute” which could have caused him to fall unconscious as soon as he exited the plane. He added, “If he had been conscious he could have released the right toggle which was causing the problem”.
After jumping from 6,000ft above Dunkeswell Aerodrome he was seen to go into free fall for approximately 19 seconds before landing. Joseph Graves, the drop zone controller at the airfield told the inquest that he had started to spiral but appeared limp in his harness and made no attempt to raise his arms to rectify this. He died from multiple injuries.
Dr Elizabeth Earland, coroner for Exeter and Greater Devon, reached a narrative conclusion at the inquest. She concluded that the “fast and hard opening” of the parachute was “due to the manner of its packing”. The sudden opening “rendered Mr Jones unconscious and forced the left-side braking toggle to release, causing an uncontrollable spiral descent. Death was instantaneous.” Dr Earland said she hoped the death would raise awareness of “the dangers of this sport and the importance of proper packing of parachutes”.
Parachute rigger Andrew Shaw told the inquest that he and a colleague had previously advised Mr Jones to “look at the way he packed” his parachute.
A post-mortem examination found Mr Jones suffered with moderately severe coronary problems but the pathologist said he could not be sure they had caused him to lose consciousness during the descent.
The BPA has responded to Mr Jones’ death by recommending that all parachutists should be reminded of the importance of packing their parachutes correctly.