|The Last Days With Terry Forrestal|
by Allan Hewitt - email@example.com
Terry was a good friend, and I will miss him a great deal. I have thought of what happened many times since the accident, and I still can’t believe it happened. I was sure he was going to be rescued, and Terry would have had another story to talk about. It is hard to understand how Terry survived his eighth BASE jump and died 11 hours later due to not being rescued from the mountain ridge he was stranded on. Terry was one of those rare breeds of people who was a very genuine person, and I know he will be missed dearly. Terry died doing a sport that he loved and even though this does not make the pain any easier, it is sort of comforting to know that he loved what he was doing.
Over the last few days my mind has been spinning with the last week we spent together, everything we did is so clear, and I feel that everyone should know what happened in Terry's life before he died. I am writing this for Terry’s family and friends and to try and make sense of what happened. If someone has never done such an extreme sport like BASE jumping it may be hard to understand why Terry decided to do such a thing. I hope to explain his thoughts and plans during the last few weeks as well as to explain the actual accident and Terry's attempt to save himself.
I first met Terry during a skydiving holiday at a parachute center in California in 1998. It was during this holiday that we saw a video in the parachute center bar all about BASE jumping. Terry said he would like to do that one day, and I agreed with him saying it was something that I had wanted to do for a long time but never got around to it.
It was a year later when Terry called me and said he had some free time and asked me if I was serious about going BASE jumping. Of course I was! We booked a week's BASE jumping course in Auburn, California, to learn all about this new sport that we wanted to do. What an adventurous week it was! However, it was not a happy time for Terry as he was depressed about his personal life, and this became more obvious as the week progressed, especially during the evenings when we had a lot of time to talk.
After the week's BASE course, we stayed in touch quite a lot and ended up flying powered parachutes from Terry’s land. He became very keen on learning to fly one, I took Terry for a flight over his house and stables. This was when Terry started to make plans on setting up the field across the road as a private airstrip so he could fly around the ridge way and decided to get his PPL for a powered parachute. We started to make business plans and were looking forward to setting up a new company together, so we spoke a lot about the future and how we would do things.
Terry called me one day saying he wanted to go to Norway as he had heard about a BASE jumping boogie from a 3,000 foot cliff, and we would have a helicopter taking us back up every time, and would I like to go as well. He said a group of British BASE jumpers would be there and we could learn a lot from them and get lots of jumps in. It sounded great to me, so we made plans to go.
Terry had said many times that he wanted me to meet Gary Connery who is an experienced BASE jumper and a stunt man, and said that he would be with us on this trip. He said he was sure I would like him and that we should get together as we have a lot in common. So I was looking forward to meeting him. It turned out that Gary had a job and had to drop out, so it was just me and Terry again.
We flew to Stavanger and hired a car to get to Lysbotton which was a two-hour drive, not knowing who we would meet or what was really ahead of us. The scenery enroute was absolutely amazing. We talked of stopping on the way back and getting some good video and photos.
Terry was looking fit and felt great and, not surprisingly so, as he had lost 3 stone since Auburn. He had not had a drink for over three months, and lived on fruit and vegetables, etc., while training hard. He was full of life and very happy, and he was certainly looking forward to all the plans we had as well as all the plans with Claire for the equestrian center and Ian with the stunt horses. He had been telling me his plans for weeks, and now it was time to catch up on the details.
It was really good to see Terry so happy and "full of beans". Over the last couple of years, I had not seen this side of Terry before. It was obvious he was over his depression and on a high point in his life. I had only known Terry for such a small time in his life, yet, I knew him better than some friends I have spent years with. We seemed to be able to talk very openly.
When we arrived, we met Stein who was a volunteer instructor and who also ran the Norwegian BASE Association. Stein explained his position, and that his aim was to make our stay as enjoyable and as safe as possible. He gave me and Terry a manual as an aid to improve our knowledge of the local area and especially the cliff jump at Kjerag.
Stein explained that the association had over 500 members and 7,000 jumps from these cliffs so they had a lot of knowledge in that area. He explained that since 1994, they have had four fatalities, and all could have been avoided as they were all minor mistakes. I looked at Terry and we started to laugh. We found the words "minor mistakes" to be a bit of an understatement, and we laughed at those words many times that evening. Stein then followed this statement with, "We are working hard to avoid these situations", and told us that was why he would have to brief us and check out our equipment, etc., before we could join the association and jump off Kjerag.
We then had a tour of the landing area, and Stein pointed out the exit point from the cliff and all the local features that we should be aware of. The first jump would be off Exit Point 7, as this had an overhang so we would be further away from the cliff on canopy deployment. If we had a bad exit or could not track very well, then we had to deploy within 8 seconds. However, if we were happy that we could track away from the cliff, we could gain more altitude and deploy after 18 seconds. Both Terry and I decided to deploy after eight seconds anyway and stay as safe as possible for the first jump.
The whole organization seemed very well practiced and professional. We had to have radio communication with the safety boat at all times, and were not allowed to jump unless everything had been put in place. The whole BASE community had a nice atmosphere about it, they looked after each other, and spread information to help people get started as safely as possible.
I was worried about the exit, and Terry was more worried about the landing area, so we had different concerns at this stage. Terry had done many jumps on to an airbag and said the exit was not a concern for him, but getting on to the small landing area was. I gave him some canopy handling tips based on typical display accuracy, which gave more room for safety margins and made it easier to arrive on target as well as to have an alternative landing point when things went wrong.
We went back to BASE camp and met the rest of the British group. It was the lads that made the trip and who had Terry in stitches many times. He said he could not remember laughing so much in a long time as all the parachute regiment, ex-parachute regiment and pathfinders had a good sense of humor that Terry associated with very well. This was the first BASE jump for all of them. The two civilians in the group were the experienced BASE jumpers with 40 BASE jumps each. After watching them debrief each BASE jump on video, he said that Shawn looked so innocent while being so devilish as he studied everyone’s jump frame by frame until he found something funny to laugh at. He had Terry laughing on the floor on one debrief.
The whole group consisted of Shawn, Craig, Digger, Tex, Flaky, Woof, Mac, Terry and myself.
The weather was good the first day and we all got ready for the hike up the mountain for our first jump at Kjerag. The first hill was called Wake Up Hill, the second was called Warm Up Hill and the third was called Hell Hill. It took approximately two to three hours depending on each person's fitness. The first time we did this hike, Terry was up front all the way as fit as a mountain goat while it was a bit of a shock to my system as it was a hard climb. By the time we arrived at the top, I wanted to go home and spend the week recovering. But I kept telling myself it was the fitness that I needed and I should not complain. Terry never even had a sweat on and was looking forward to jumping and doing it again the same day. I put a top on that, as I could not have done it twice in one day.
The first jump was a challenge that we had looked forward to and talked about a lot, Terry went before me so I could video his exit as I was wearing my camera in my helmet. Terry went head down on his first jump, but, as he explained later, it felt natural to do so as he always looked down for the air bag, etc., when he had done this sort of thing before. After watching the video of Terry in a head-down position for most of the freefall before deploying his parachute and landing right on target, the rest of the lads christened it as "Terry’s Death Dive" as it looked a lot more scary than what the rest of us did. Terry found this very funny and said that was what was good about this group was they said what they meant and everybody got a slagging down in a very memorable way.
My exit went well which was in contrast to my previous attempts in Auburn. Terry’s briefing worked for me even though he never followed his own advice. He explained later that it would be hard to break the habit of not looking down which is essential to a good exit, but managed it on later jumps okay. Stein debriefed us all and said that Terry needed to work on both his exit and tracking, and until they improved he should stay on Exit 7 as the other exit points would have given him a problem. This was the first jump on the canopy I took with me, and it was very slow to open, so Stein told me to get a grip on that. I did so by cutting a very large hole in the slider that improved it a great deal for the rest of the trip.
When we got together on the landing site it was full of BASE jumpers wanting to talk about our own jumps in detail to each other. We were all on a high and had a great time talking and laughing about what we had just done. Ribbing each other was all part of the game but it highlighted the weaknesses of each and every one and made the progression very fast, it was a steep learning curve for all of us. What a buzz! It’s certainly an adrenaline rush even to remember. Terry was very impressed with his canopy accuracy and was feeling good about going again and sorting his exit out.
That was enough for one day, and we spent the rest of the day packing and watching everyone's videos. Out of nine jumpers we had seven cameras, and we had to watch them all over and over again. The heckling was just good fun all around, and we started to look forward to the video debriefs as they were very funny with no one taking prisoners and saying exactly what they meant. Each person did something that was hysterical to watch on video.
This was to set the routine for the week until the rest of the lads went home, they could not stay for the helicopter boogie starting the weekend. So it was back to just Terry and me for the weekend, we jumped with the Russian team on Friday when they arrived and then registered for the helicopter lifts on Saturday morning.
At the beginning of the week, we met Lol, Rupert and Rob who were doing a program on BASE jumping for Cutting Edge. They had been following Shawn, Gary and some of the other British BASE jumpers around and interviewing every one, etc., for the program. Terry kindly volunteered us both to do some filming for them up the top of the mountain and jumping with their camera. He said that I would actually jump with the camera as he was not too sure of his landings and I would make sure the camera was okay, "Thanks Terry", I said. It's not as if I had anything else to worry about. I never had any problem with it though, as once it was on, I could just forget about it.
I ended up leaning over the cliff, with Terry holding on to my harness so that I would not fall off, and filming some of the exits all the way to deployment and landing. Terry’s professionalism came out as if he was at work, and he talked on the radio to the film crew with a countdown so they would not miss any exits. When Terry’s turn came around, I stayed on the ledge and filmed his exit, and he took the radio with him. On opening his canopy, the bag he was carrying decided to carry on, and we lost the radio to the cliff and never saw it again. The film crew was very happy with the filming so they never really minded about the radio.
Photos by courtesy of Yuri Kuznetszov
Being last off the cliff when no one else was with you was more nerve wracking. And it showed as I was wearing the video showing my face and to get the canopy deployment. It shows me being slightly nervous, and every one had a good laugh on my behalf. Terry never let me forget it as he found it very funny. Terry never showed any nerves at all on any of his jumps until Shawn showed him a video of his wobbly legs prior to exit. Terry put this down to just being careful with his dodgey legs and I believed him even if others never did.
One thing that can be said about this week is that we have a lot of video footage and Lol interviewed us all. Terry explained what he was doing and why and when Lol asked about the fatal consequences if things were to go wrong. Terry had given this a lot more thought than I had, as he went into detail about how the Lord decided when and how you die, and if it was time then that was a decision he would accept, however, he would do all he could to prevent it. I, on the other hand, was happy not to think about this issue. The filming that was done will be good to see as it shows how much fun Terry and the rest of us had as well as seeing Terry explain his reasons to the camera in support of his actions, etc.
Saturday was going to be a fairly miserable day with the weather, and we all waited for the clouds to lift so we could get started. When we received the word that it was going to start, we all went to the helicopter point for the lift to the top of Kjerag. Terry was wearing Shawn’s jumpsuit as this improved his tracking giving him more drag on his legs, he had also borrowed some kneepads as well, ready for any bad landings if he got them wrong. He always jumped with his hard helmet, and we were set for the helicopter boogie.
We got to the top and were joking with the rest of the lads, and a lot of fun was being had by all. It's all on video as usual. A lot of jumpers had already gone as we were near the back of the queue. Terry went before me again so I could video his exit, then another single jumper went and then came a command on the radio to stop jumping as we had a cliff strike.
At this point I never thought it was Terry as someone else had gone after him, we waited for approximately half an hour not knowing what was happening at the base of the mountain, so we just sat on the top waiting. Stein suddenly came on the mountain saying he was okay and we should get off the mountain before the weather got worse. Two lads went before me, and it was getting very cloudy when I decided to go, but I could still see the landing area, so I jumped.
I went into cloud for approximately one to two seconds and then it was clear, I immediately saw Terry’s canopy on the cliff ledge directly below me while tracking past him. I deployed and made my way back to the landing area. Stein came over and told me it was Terry, which confirmed it.
I listened to everyone's descriptions of what they saw from the ground. They said Terry had waved to the helicopter crew but pointed to his legs with a chopping motion across his neck. They decided that it was because he had broken both his legs. I then asked to see the playback from a Norwegian film crew who were doing a program on extreme sports, The playback had Terry’s jump full in frame all the way to his landing.
He had a head down exit again, but not as stable as previous jumps, and he seemed to have moved closer to the cliff. He leveled out and started to track, but did a very bad track and never gained any forward movement unlike his previous jumps. He immediately deployed as he stopped tracking, and it looked a little unstable as well while rushing his deployment, as he was at that point where he had to have canopy before the 12-second impact point. He then had a 180 opening which turned his parachute heading directly towards the cliff. He hit the cliff and rolled down to a ledge, bounced off and rolled down again until he stopped on the ledge. His canopy still stayed inflated while he was falling which slowed down the impact. He may have broken something at that point, but I thought that everyone was jumping to conclusions.
There was no doubt Terry could have been injured during his landing on the ledge, but the helicopter crew and some of the staff said he sat up okay, waved to them, and after pointing to his legs, he took his helmet off and pulled his parachute in to settle down until he was recovered, as he had no way of getting down from where he was.
Stein had implemented emergency plans, and we were told the mountain rescue unit was on the way. He said it would be a long time to get Terry down, and the weather was getting worse. We all cleared the area apart from the staff and film crews and had to wait back at the base camp. At this point we were all sure he was going to be okay and Terry would have a story to tell that we would have to wait for.
The British Embassy called Claire as Terry had put her down as next of kin. And by the time we returned to the base camp approximately one hour after the accident, I started to receive calls from the UK asking how Terry was. For the next few hours we waited to hear if they had gotten Terry down yet and heard that the weather was causing problems for the climbers. I am not sure what was happening back at the landing area and the cliff even though we were in radio contact. We all presumed that the rescue had been started and we did not want to interfere.
It was six hours after Terry landed on the ledge that we heard for the first time how the rescue was going. One of the local BASE jumpers came asking for volunteers to carry the rope to the top of Kjerag so the climbers could climb down to Terry. We were absolutely amazed that nothing had been done up to this point, as we were told that they had started. Whether a rescue attempt had been made up to this point and aborted I do not know.
They asked for 12 volunteers who could climb the mountain fast, to carry bags with rope weighing approximately 35 pounds each, so we could get the climbers to the top to start the rescue. We had more volunteers than were needed and everybody was more than willing to help a fellow BASE jumper who, by now, was really in need of help. We then stood around for another hour waiting for the rope and climbers while complaining about the speed of things. We all thought that asking for 12 "quick" climbers was a bit of a joke as nobody else seemed to be rushing.
We did the climb in 2 hours 20 minutes which was a fast pace and the climbers started to sort the kit out. When we left the top to walk back down it was around 11 p.m. Terry had been on that ledge since 1 p.m. nearly ten hours. The rope group started the walk back to base camp, as it would be getting dark soon, while the climbers started the descent down to Terry.
Two of the local BASE jumpers found the rigs that were left up the mountain earlier and decided to jump and fly past Terry under canopy and let him know the rescuers were on the way. It was not until we arrived back at BASE camp in the early hours of the morning that I was told Terry had died.
I could not believe it. I was so sure he was going to be okay. We all were. It was at this point that I received a phone call from the British Embassy in Norway, and I was caught up in dealing with the situation and having to inform Terry's family. I never really had time to ask those questions that needed asking: How did he die? Did he fall? Did the rescue go wrong? What happened to turn this accident into a fatality? These questions had to wait and nobody said anything unless they had to.
I first telephoned Eileen not knowing what to say, as I was sure the telephone was not the way to break the news. The embassy said that they could not get word through as everyone was on holiday, and it would be worse if Terry's family read about him in the papers first. I was slightly relieved that when I called, I spoke to a man, but before I said anything I wanted to know who he was. When I found out it was Terry's brother Gabriel, I told him what had happened and he said he would let the rest of the family know. Over the next 12 hours, I spoke to Terry's sisters as well as many of his friends to answer the questions everyone had.
It was about 3.30 a.m. when one of the lads came up to me with a drink and invited me to stay with them for a while as a group of them were having a quiet drink together talking about the day's events. Two of the lads were the ones who jumped off the cliff just prior to midnight to try and fly past Terry and let him know the rescuers were on the way. This was extreme as the weather was very bad but they knew the area very well and were sure they would be okay.
When they flew past, Terry was not on the ledge any more so they carried on to the bottom and found Terry who was already dead. They explained that he had cut away his main parachute and tried to do another BASE jump using his reserve parachute but he never had the height to make it work. He was found with his reserve fully deployed, helmet, kneepads, etc., were all on to indicate it was a deliberate attempt to get himself down.
We then started to speculate on what could have happened, as we still do not know for certain, but this is my theory. After being stranded for over 11 hours on a cliff in cold bad weather, possibly injured as well, Terry must have thought that everyone had abandoned him. It had now turned dark, the helicopter had flown back to Stavanger, so he decided that he either had to stay the night or jump again. Terry obviously tried to jump again and save himself rather than stay the night. This put a lot of doubt into the theory of him breaking both legs when landing on the ledge.
What could have prevented Terry's untimely death is a massive chain of events. First, he could have not gone BASE jumping. However, this was not an option at the time, as it was something he was very keen on doing. Terry's skydiving ability was the cause of him landing on the ledge while having some built-in habits from stunt work to overcome. Terry was not going to stop even though he knew he was not very good, as he also thought he would be safe enough even if he got it wrong. Nobody disagreed with this at the time, and Terry improved very quickly so all seemed okay.
The real event that caused this accident to turn into a fatality, however, was the rescue attempt. First, regular communication with Terry would have probably stopped him from jumping if only he had known that the climbers were already climbing down when he jumped. Prior to him jumping, I asked him if he had his phone with him, as I always carried mine. He said no because he had already lost a radio, and he did not want to lose his phone. Apart from the helicopter flying past soon after the accident I am not aware of any further attempts to stay in contact with him, and it was certainly lack of communication that was a big factor in these events. Letting Terry know that something was being done should have been essential in a situation like this.
Another link in the chain of events that could have prevented this was Terry was going to buy a specialized BASE rig but never got around to it. He was happy using his skydiving rig on this trip. The big difference with a BASE rig would have been the critical fact he would not have had a reserve parachute and, therefore, the fatal decision to jump again using a reserve would not have arisen.
The biggest chain, however, was the delay in starting the rescue from the top of the cliff. Why did it take six hours before a decision had been made to walk up? What happened during this time? Was a rescue attempt made from the BASE of the cliff, or was the crew just waiting for the weather to clear so the helicopter could fly them to the top? The weather was part of that chain, and if it had been like the weather of the past week (blue skies) the rescuers would have had the helicopter at the top in no time.
I have written a lot about the build up to the trip, the trip itself and the accident leading to Terry's, death. However I have a lot more to tell, as a lot of the trip was just talking and planning the future, and Terry had a lot of plans. I also want to write about some of the highlights of the trip that made it so much fun for Terry, as knowing that he was having a good time is so important.
My partners and myself were working on a business plan with Terry to set up a powered parachute school in the field opposite his house. Terry had given us written permission to fly from his land in the meantime, as we had the field cleared by a CAA examiner to do all our flight trial on his property. Terry was ahead of me as he had already made plans to move the gate in the field opposite his track to the hangers. He was building two new buildings for classrooms and talked about the clubhouse that would be for the powered parachutes and the equestrian center. We could not wait to finalize the plans so we talked about this a lot in Norway.
Our plans, however, were only a small part in Terry's future, as the equestrian center he was building was at the top of his list. He was so proud of actually having this project started with Claire running it for him, and was very happy with how Claire had settled into Angel's Grange. He said that the dogs were "traitors" as they were spending more time with Claire rather than going for a walk with him. He said she was great with the animals, and so full of enthusiasm and ability that he knew it was going to do well.
Besides the equestrian center, he was also working with Ian on training stunt horses, and saw this as an addition to his work as a stunt coordinator. Terry had a lot of plans and life was certainly on the up. It's sad that he is not going to fulfill his plans, but its also good that he was having a good time when he died. He was reading two scripts and trying to decide weather he wanted the job in Prague or Russia as his next job.
The people that made Terry laugh a lot while in Norway made his trip, when Digger jumped onto a snow bank to try and break it into the river it was hilarious. While we all stood around laughing, Terry said that it was typical parachute regiment mentality: he knows he has to break it but does not know why. When Shaun played the videos back frame by frame to catch facial expressions and unplanned noises, etc., Terry said he looked so innocent while being so devilish. It is these things that I remember from this trip, and I will continue to remember Terry being happy, fit and having a good time and looking forward to a bright future.
He will be sadly missed, I will also remember Eileen helping me when I needed it most while dealing with her own grief. His death was very hard for Claire to deal with as she knew Terry had put a lot of faith in her. I spent a lot of time talking to Claire while in Norway and you could feel the pain she was going through. Speaking to Eileen and Toni was hard as they were heartbroken, as I am sure were the rest of Terry's family.
I have never been one to write before and my English is atrocious. However, I hope I have made some difference in trying to explain what happened, and that this gives some comfort to Terry's family and friends to understand what Terry was doing and that he was having a great time.
I do not believe that Terry would hold anyone responsible apart from himself. If he was alive today, he would be pretty pissed with himself for stopping others from having a great weekend.
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