An attempt to break a skydiving Guinness World Record over Tennessee on Oct. 16 led to one man’s tragic death.
The Detroit Free Press reported on Jim Wigginton and Thomas Noonan III’s attempt.
The pair, along with two solo jumpers, an oxygen manager, a videographer, a jumpmaster, and a pilot set out to break the record for highest tandem skydive.
Noonan, the chief technical director of Everest Skydive, got his foot stuck as he exited the plane. Noonan had several certifications as a USPA tandem instructor and advisor.
Both men developed a close friendship and had set records around the world before the tragedy.
The Friends’ Skydive Accident
Michigan native Wigginton talked about the accident, knowing that he had heavy gear that day. The 72-year-old man said the plane was at 41,000 feet and the first two guys made their exits. However, Wigginton and Noonan struggled to get to the door.
Before the close friends jumped, the required oxygen system malfunctioned, and the crew started having symptoms of hypoxia, or lack of oxygen.
The newspaper reported that Noonan lost consciousness along with the videographer. Wigginton, strapped to Noonan, also went in and out of consciousness.
While most of the crew regained consciousness, Noonan did not. Crew members pulled the tandem jumpers back into the plane. The plane landed, and emergency personnel took the 47-year-old Noonan to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Wigginton told the newspaper they had done previous high-altitude jumps with the risks increasing with each jump.
The skydiver admitted that 41,000 was the physical limit for jumping without wearing a pressurized suit.
“So we were already tempting pressure,” the man said.
The day of the jump
Wigginton, who had plans to go with Noonan and jump in Nepal, said he knew of the skydiving jump’s dangers.
However, the complicated jump was not impossible. The average jetliner altitude comes in at 45,000 feet. The men had to factor in logistics, temperature and oxygen control, where folks sat on the plane and finally, how long you pre-breathe with the oxygen tanks.
The group did two test runs prior to Oct. 16 at lower altittudes and Wigginton said that Oct. 16 shaped up to be a great morning.
There were a few other factors like jumping at 3 a.m. and getting clearance to avoid commercial planes, but the crew stuck to its goal of leaving before sunrise and jump.
Wigginton said if Noonan’s foot had not gotten suck, he would’ve jumped. And that decision could have proved costly with the automatic activation device due to the men’s weight.
Now, Wigginton isn’t sure if he’ll skydive again.
Julie Watkins, Noonan’s fiancee, said some of the man’s ashes are stet to be released at a DeLand, Fla. dropzone.