Rookie Sky Diver: 'Survival Instinct Kicked In'

EXCLUSIVE: Rookie speaks out after landing with dead instructor strapped to him.

ByABC News via logo
February 3, 2009, 8:00 AM

Feb. 3, 2009 — -- On his first experience sky diving, Daniel Pharr was 13,000 feet in the air when something went terribly wrong.

The 25-year-old Army private was harnessed to veteran sky diving instructor Chip Steele, 49, who had 8,000 jumps under his belt. Moments after jumping from the plane, Steele deployed the parachute but then he went silent.

"I knew something was wrong. My survival instinct just kicked in," Pharr said today on "Good Morning America."

Pharr said he tried to make conversation with Steele, who was unresponsive. What Pharr didn't know at that point was that Steele had just suffered a heart attack.

Pharr knew he had to take control of the situation.

"I knew something was wrong with him and I wanted to help him," Pharr told "GMA" in an exclusive interview. "I had to assess the situation. And my military training kicked in. I didn't lose my cool because I knew it wouldn't do any good."

Pharr's girlfriend Jessica Brunson, who had arranged the sky diving jump for Pharr as a Christmas present, was watching from the ground.

"We were on the same plane. I jumped out right before him. We were the last two on the plane," she said. "When I landed, I saw they were far off from the zone they were supposed to be in."

Pharr knew he was drifting off course but he only had control of one toggle on the parachute, which meant he could only make right-hand turns.

"I could see other parachutes going as scheduled from the other jumpers. They were going the opposite direction I was going. So, what happened was, I turned right because I was headed toward a house. Then, I was headed toward trees, and I turned again," he said.

Though he'd never sky-dived before, Pharr said he picked up the basics from the instructional video he had watched before the jump and from watching jumps on TV.

When Pharr landed, he immediately tried to administer CPR to Steele, but it was too late.

James La Barrie, the general manager of Skydive Carolina where Steele worked, said, "Chip would be so relieved to know that his tandem passenger was OK and unscathed. He loved sky diving and the joy it brought to the thousands of first-time jumpers."