WISCONSIN – Nine skydivers and two pilots escaped serious injury when two planes collided midair Saturday evening in far northwest Wisconsin near Lake Superior. Officials with the FAA were on scene Sunday to talk to those involved in hopes of determining the cause of the incident, according to spokesman Roland Herwig.
Mike Robinson, an instructor and safety adviser for Skydive Superior, said the skydivers had gone up for their last jump of the day – called the “sunset load” – and the two planes were flying in formation but somehow collided at 12,000 feet just seconds before the final jump.
“We do this all the time,” Robinson said. “We just don’t know what happened for sure that caused this. We were just a few seconds away from having a normal skydive when the trail plane came over the top of the lead aircraft and came down on top of it. It turned into a big flash fireball, and the wing separated. All of us knew we had a crash.”
Robinson and three other skydivers had already climbed out onto the step at the side of the Cessna 183 and were ready to jump. The crash simply expedited the process.
“The wing over our head was gone, so we just left,” he said.
Five skydivers occupied the other plane. Three who were poised to jump at the time of the collision were knocked off at impact and parachuted to safety. The two others inside were able to jump to safety as well.
The pilot of Robinson’s plane ejected, while the pilot of the second plane was able to land the damaged aircraft safely at Richard I. Bong Airport, where it took off.
Robinson, watched his plane spiral downward and brake into pieces: “Looking around, we’re seeing the wing that came off. We’re seeing it’s on fire, and there are just parts of the airplane floating in the air with us,” he said. “We were falling faster than those parts … So the concern was we get away from the crash area.”
He and his fellow skydivers were able to steer themselves away from falling debris toward the original landing spot. The pilot who ejected had an emergency parachute that could not be steered and as a result, he landed elsewhere and suffered minor injuries, according to Robinson.
All of the skydivers were instructors or coaches and had hundreds, if not thousands, of jumps under their belts.