Posted: 11:26 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013


Skydiver jumps a year after near-fatal accident


Skydiver jumps a year after near-fatal accident photo
John Hart III, 25, chief instructor at Start Skydiving, makes his first skydiving jump on Sept. 1 at Middletown Regional Airport. During a jump exactly one year prior, Hart’s parachute collapsed about 30 feet from the ground, resulting in a harsh landing that caused a collapsed lung, broken vertebrae, broken ribs and a broken pelvis.

By Michael D. Pitman

Staff Writer


John Hart III’s first skydive since a near fatal accident was exactly one year in the making.

The son of John Hart II, Start Skydiving owner and Middletown Regional Airport manager, had a hard landing on Sept. 1, 2012, following what started out as just another skydive. Some would say John Hart III, 25, was lucky after his hard landing from a parachute malfunction. But he and his dad, John Hart II, believe it was divinity that allowed him to not only to walk again — after sustaining a collapsed lung and breaking three vertebrae, several ribs and his pelvis — but to also jump again.

John Hart III said he purposely chose Sept. 1 for his first jump since the accident.

“Call me nostalgic, I guess, but to me it was marking a life-altering event,” he said. “I wanted to start off another chapter of my life, and that day was important to me.”

John Hart III was training for a national skydiving competition and his jump on Sept. 1, 2012, was just like any one of his 3,000 other jumps. But when he pulled his rip cord to open his parachute, something was off.

“On deployment, when the parachute opened, I realized it didn’t feel quite right and I noticed I had a couple broken lines,” he said. “I turned right, turned left and it seemed to steer okay. But what I hadn’t done is one of the biggest thing and what you should do on every single skydive is practice what is called flaring, or slowing the parachute down which is what you do when you land.”

Had he not made that crucial mistake, he would have cut his parachute and used his reserve, and he would have likely been able to compete in a national skydiving competition he was training for.

He started to flare his parachute at around 30 feet, but as soon as he did that it collapsed. He swung up in the air and then slammed against the grassy field on his back. After the immediate impact he was numb, but soon he felt the excruciating pain. He did have the awareness, he said, to take his phone out of his jumpsuit and call 911.

His father saw the whole thing as he deployed his parachute moments earlier.

“What I noticed immediately was a bubble on top of his canopy that was deformed so I knew something was wrong,” John Hart II said. The veteran of around 15,000 skydiving jumps knew he had to cut away, but he didn’t and knew it would not be a good landing. He landed in a field away from the hangers.

He descended as quickly as he could, landed toward the hanger — yelling to call 911 as he approached the ground — and when he landed, shed his parachute, grabbed his medical bag (the elder Hart is a former Army Special Forces medic) and took off toward his son.

“And honest to God, I thought I lost him,” John Hart II said. “And the first words out of my mouth were, ‘Not today God. Don’t take him this way.’ ”

Dr. Jennifer Smail, an orthopaedic spine surgeon at Atrium Medical Center, performed the near nine-hour second surgery just days after the accident.

While the Harts said it was a one in a million chance he’d be able to survive the accident and a one in 10 million chance he’d be able to walk again, Smail hesitated to put any odds on the recovery.

“This was such an unusual injury that it would be difficult to put a numeric odds on it,” she said.

But no matter the odds, the recovery was quick, Smail said.

Not only could he walk — though in pain — the day after his pelvic surgery, six months after John Hart III’s accident he started training to skydive at a simulator in Florida. He was cleared to jump 10 months after the accident.

John Hart III said Smail was hesitant about clearing him to jump, and jokingly said, “I’m her fixed person, she doesn’t want to see me break again.”

And though Smail cleared him, his dad had a condition: “He had to be in the best shape of his life,” John Hart II said.

Smail said the injury and circumstances surrounding it “had the potential to be a very bad situation.”

But motivation, passion and desire were contributing factors, in addition to the Harts’ faith in God, in John Hart III’s recovery

“In his favor, he is a very motivated and healthy individual who wanted to get back doing what he loved so much,” she said. “And I’ve seen (the power of prayer) do some miraculous things for people.”


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