1st-time skydiver's ability to land safely called 'incredible'

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A typical tandem jump, with the instructor on top and in control. (Courtesy photo)

The skydiving student who parachuted out of a jump plane with an instructor who became separated and fell to his death was skydiving for the very first time, a source close to the investigation told The Rochester Voice on Thursday.

Brett Bickford, 41, of Rochester, an experienced skydiver and longtime instructor at Skydive New England in Lebanon, Maine, somehow became detached immediately following deployment of the parachute during a tandem jump around 2 p.m. on Sept. 27.

Bickford, who had no emergency parachute, fell to his death landing in deep woods some 750 feet southwest of the facility where he was found late in the afternoon the next day.

The male skydiving student would have had several minutes of flight remaining as his parachute drifted slowly to earth, the source said.

Officials say he landed without incident and uninjured in the normal landing zone, something an area novice skydiver with four tandem jumps under their belt called "incredible."

Asked what it might have been like to lose your instructor as the chute deploys, they said, "I'd be terrified, I'd think I'd be dying."

The female skydiver, who lives in Milton, said the instructor often lets the student test their skill with maneuvering the parachute once it's deployed, but she didn't know if she'd be able to do it on her own.

"He had to maneuver himself," she said. "It's incredible. I've been four times and I still don't think I'd be able to figure it out, I'd be freaking out."

Tandem jumps are typically made with the student and instructor in separate harnesses that are attached, with the instructor secured behind and above the student. Officials have released no information regarding any harness issues the instructor may have had.

The Milton skydiver added that in a tandem jump the instructor deploys the parachute via the ripcord, but there is an emergency chute that deploys automatically at a certain altitude.

She said since the accident she has been in contact with several fellow skydiving enthusiasts who all agree this is the first time they've heard of anything like this happening.

Meanwhile, FAA officials have said there is no timetable for concluding their investigation and that no information will be released until the final report is released.

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