Meet the skydiver who cheated death...

Published Aug 25, 2004


Christine MacKenzie - the woman who literally fell from the sky three days ago and lived - is home after a brief stay in hospital.

MacKenzie captured international media attention after surviving when her main parachute failed to open and her reserve parachute nearly snapped during a jump with the Johannesburg Skydiving Club in Carletonville on Sunday. She suffered only a hairline fracture on her pelvic bone.

MacKenzie on Tuesday said she had not been able to sleep properly since her accident and would be going for counselling to deal with the experience.

She said she was trying out a sitting position when she jumped on Sunday.

"You build up a lot of speed in that position. I went flat at 1 800m and at 1 100m deployed my main parachute.

I looked around and there wasn't anything above me," she said.

She then realised her main parachute had not opened.

"Normally you cut away from the main parachute and deploy your reserve. I decided to pull my reserve first and then let the main parachute clear," MacKenzie recalled.

But the force with which the reserve opened seemed to cause some lines to snap, while others twisted. She began spiralling and could not believe what was happening to her.

"I thought: 'I'm getting married in three months' time, and what about my family?' I was really cross with myself," MacKenzie said.

In the last 20 seconds of her fall, she said, she saw powerlines below her. "I thought: 'Oh sh*t, I really need this now'," MacKenzie said.

From the ground, Clive Burger and his family, who were driving on a nearby road, saw MacKenzie falling out of the sky.

"All of a sudden I saw this white parachute coming down and part of it didn't open. I saw the person knock the powerlines quite hard. I told my wife that we had to turn around and go help.

"She was lying in the veld. The first thing I thought was that she was dead. I was quite surprised that she was still alive and was still conscious at that stage," Burger said.

Burger is an artisan on the Blyvooruitzicht mine in Carletonville and well versed in first aid. He tried to keep MacKenzie as still as possible.

"I wasn't sure if she had any spinal or internal injuries, so the best thing was to keep her calm and still.

"I tried to keep her awake. She was concerned she was going to die and was worried about her family," Burger said.

But he kept talking to her, saying she had much to live for.

Members of her skydiving club, as well as a paramedic, soon arrived on the scene. MacKenzie was later airlifted to Milpark Hospital, where her father, Robert, was waiting.

He was initially not allowed near his daughter as doctors and nurses wheeled her into the hospital for x-rays. She had been strapped down from head to toe with a brace around her head and neck.

"I think, in truth, that God doesn't give chances like these very often," Robert MacKenzie said.

Christine agrees, and said that after seeing the trauma her family had been through, she would give up skydiving.

She said she and her fiancé, Graham Hewlett, a pilot, who is on his way back from Chad, had decided to cancel their planned adventure honeymoon of skydiving and cage-diving with great white sharks.

"I spoke to him and said: 'Do you mind if we just do romantic dinners instead?'."

Johan Mulder, the chief instructor of the Johannesburg Skydiving Club, said it was the first time in nine years of skydiving he had seen such an accident.

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