Federal Aviation Officials on Monday were working to find out what caused two small planes to collide in mid-air in far northwest Wisconsin near Lake Superior.
The planes, one with four skydivers and the other with five, were 12,000 feet in the air and in tandem formation when the trailing plane got caught in the lead plane’s tailwind, causing it to come over the top of the first plane, drop, and clip the plane’s wings off.
“In freefall, we could see the burning airplane come apart in at least pieces,” said skydive instructor Mike Robinson. “You hear this tremendous, loud bang. You see the wing come off. You see it on fire and it’s right there. It’s five feet from you.”
The three skydivers who were on the step of the second plane got knocked off upon impact, Robinson said, and the two inside were able to jump. The pilot of Robinson’s plane ejected himself, and the pilot of the second plane landed the aircraft safely at Richard I. Bong Airport, from where it took off. The plane was damaged.
Robinson said the skydivers had parachutes that allowed them to steer themselves away from the falling debris and toward the planned landing spot. They opened their parachutes between 3,000 and 5,000 feet and landed safely.
The pilot of the lead plane, the one that broke apart, had an emergency parachute that cannot be steered, Robinson said. He landed elsewhere and suffered minor injuries that required medical attention.
Robinson said his group was lucky.
“It might’ve been a lot worse,” he said. “Everybody, to a person, responded just as they should, including the pilots.”
He said that as he tracked away from the plane he grew concerned when he saw only one emergency parachute — meaning only one pilot had ejected. He was relieved to learn that the pilot of the second plane was able to stay with the aircraft and land it.
Robinson said he suffered no injuries, but a few jumpers had bumps, bruises and muscle soreness. And despite the scare, he said he would not hesitate to jump again.
“Whenever the clouds and winds allow us to be up, we’ll be jumping,” he said, although now the company, Skydive Superior, is without aircraft.
Recently, a skydiving accident in Belgium claimed the lives of 11 people. Part of the aircraft’s wing broke minutes after the plane took off from an airfield on Oct. 19, sending the plane into a spiraling nosedive. The parachutists, nearly all between the ages of 20 and 40, were celebrating a birthday and weren’t able to jump out.