80-Year-Old Woman's Skydiving Trip From Hell
A video of an elderly woman's skydiving adventure gone horribly awry has gone viral, perhaps serving as a warning literally to look before you leap - or at least to mind your elders when it looks like they actually don't want to jump out of the plane.
The video was created by The Parachute Center, a skydiving company in Acampo, Calif., as a memento for jumpers to take home after their airborne adventures.
But someone posted it on The Chive, a video site on which a counter said it has been viewed more than 170,000 times. It shows Laverne, an energetic woman who has just turned 80 and has rounded up a crew of female relatives to go skydiving with her. She tells the camera that she's "real excited," and that she has wanted to do this for "at least 10 years."
Cut to the plane taking off to an upbeat rock tune by The Offspring. We see Laverne smiling, looking out the window, and putting on her safety goggles. A few jumpers dive from the open plane window and whoosh down toward the earth below. Looks like they're all having fun.
But wait a second - something's wrong. The Offspring song has been cranked up and it's Laverne's turn to jump with her towheaded tandem instructor, but it looks as if she's having second thoughts. She's no longer smiling and is instead clinging to the side of the open door. Then her legs buckle and she's sitting down, refusing to move, and appears to mouth the word "No!"
Instead of letting the poor woman just sit it out - it's not like they're on an episode of "Fear Factor," right? - the instructor scoops her up and they fall forward out of the plane.
The camera person has also jumped, so from his vantage point, we see that Laverne has evidently slipped out of her harness so that the straps are attaching her to her instructor from behind her knees. She's also clinging to him with her arms. And her shirt has flown up, so we see part of Laverne's torso. The instructor starts trying to pull her shirt down, which is the last thing we see before the camera cuts to the scenery thousands of feet below them.
The souvenir video from hell finishes from the ground, where we see the duo land in the distance and two employees run toward them. Laverne appears to be okay, but says something to the effect of "Let me get my clothes," as she tugs at her blouse. The instructor seems shaken and one of the other employees is consoling him.
"This happened a long time ago and everything worked as advertised," said Parachute Center owner Bill Dause in a statement to ABC News. "No one got hurt or injured." In a separate call to the center, an employee who answered the phone said the video was a year old, but said he had no more information.
The FAA, reached by ABC News, said the video first came to its attention late Thursday.
An FAA safety inspector visited The Parachute Center today, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. The inspector spoke with the company owner and employees about the incident and plans to do additional interviews and examine records next week, Gregor said.
Jim Crouch, director of safety and training for the U.S. Parachute Association, said he heard about the incident last June. He had not seen the video until it spread online this week.
Skydiving fatalities are on the decline these days, with some 21 deaths out of 3 million jumpers in 2010, a 0.007 chance of death, according to the association.
Nancy Koreen, a spokesperson for the association, said it looked as if Laverne's harness wasn't adjusted properly, and that she wasn't positioned properly before the jump. "But that's not at all a common occurrence," she said. "It's extremely, extremely rare."
There have been two similar incidents of harness slippage, in which skydivers slipped out of their harnesses completely, said Koreen. Both happened about a decade ago, she said, and afterwards harness manufacturers modified them to have an extra strap across the skydiver's back.
"The USPA does everything that we can to reinforce proper training for instructors, constantly issuing reminders to make sure that instructors are properly adjusting their student harnesses to avoid any kind of situation where the students isn't situated properly or comes loose," Koreen said.
Even so, Laverne will probably celebrate her next birthday on solid ground.
ABC News' Brandon Bodow, Ross Eichenholz and Clayton Sandell contributed reporting for this story.