Johannesburg - A South African man whose wife narrowly escaped death after spiralling to the ground is facing trial for allegedly sabotaging her parachute.
The Winchester Crown Court in the UK heard this week that Victoria Cilliers miraculously survived a 370-metre parachute jump after her main and reserve chute failed to open properly.
The Crown is alleging that in April 2015 her husband Emile Cilliers removed two pieces of equipment from the parachute, slinks, that connect a parachute to the jumper’s harness.
This days after he allegedly first attempted to murder her by turning on a gas valve and trying to cause an explosion at their home.
Victoria was considered one of Britain’s top skydivers when she jumped from a plane at Netheravon, on Salisbury plain in south-west England. The veteran free-fall instructor who had completed about 2600 jumps was meant to have completed what is known as a “hop and pop” jump - a low-level skydive, where the parachute opens immediately upon the jumper leaving the plane.
Shortly after leaving the plane, Cilliers realised she was in trouble when her first parachute didn’t open properly. After jettisoning the main chute, she activated her reserve but it too malfunctioned and she began spinning towards the ground.
Experts said she was able to survive the catastrophic failure by slowing her descent to 45km/* and guiding her parachute that had a single line attached towards a ploughed field.
Those who rushed to where she lay had expected to find her dead but found her alive having suffered a broken pelvis, ribs and vertebrae.
Members of the jury heard Emile had collected a parachute for his wife and had taken it to the men’s toilet at Netheravon. There, the prosecution claim he tampered with the chute, taking less than three minutes to complete the task.
When the jump was cancelled due to bad weather, Emile, the prosecution said, stowed the chute in Cilliers’s locker. During this time the husband allegedly showed an unusual interest in the weather.
Cilliers jumped the next day. The chance of the slinks breaking off, according to experts, was unheard of.
After the incident, police searched the Cilliers home and discovered that a gas valve, next to a cooker, had allegedly been tampered with.
The court heard that when Cilliers had discovered the leak, she sent her husband a WhatsApp message where she asked him jokingly if he was “trying to kill her”.
The prosecution is arguing that Emile Cilliers’s motive was to pocket a £120 000 (R2.1 million) life insurance policy that would pay off his debts.
The prosecutor also told the jury that Emile was involved in at least two extra-marital affairs, and was desperate to start a new life with his secret lover Stefanie Goller. Cilliers is also accused of sleeping with his ex-wife Carly Cilliers.
The court also heard how Emile Cilliers had sent Goller messages saying he was going to leave his wife. In one, he wrote: “I will sacrifice and give up so much for you.”
Mark Bayada, a chief instructor of the Army Parachute Association at Netheravon did, however, tell jurors that an innocent explanation for the missing slinks might be that they were cut away when paramedics treated her at the accident site.
In 2011 the couple married at the plush Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town. Facebook reveals Emile as a fitness fanatic.
The trial has been set down for five weeks and continues.