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Imagine jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet and your parachute failing, leaving you to meet the cold, hard ground at 50 mph. Surely death would be next. Surely, according to every law of physics and human biology, you would almost immediately be no more. Not so for Brad Guy, who managed to escape with his life when his instructor's parachute and emergency backup both failed to open on a jump in 2013.
I caught up with Brad for a chat.
VICE: Hey Brad. You survived a skydive-gone-wrong.
Brad Guy: I did. It was about four years ago, the 1st of August, 2013. It was in Melbourne, in an area called Lilydale. It was a picturesque day – 25 degrees, beautiful weather, not a cloud in the sky. Great conditions for the plane to get up and for me to jump.
How high was the plane when you jumped?
It was 15,000 feet. I'm pretty sure you could choose a height you wanted, and I chose to go the highest. There was a lot of banter; the instructor asked me if there were any last words, in kind of a jovial sense. I've got a bit of a dark sense of humour, so I said, "Yeah, I hope my parachute opens." So I kind of jinxed it for myself. It's one thing I've thought about a lot – did I actually bring it upon myself?
As my instructor pushed me closer to the edge, I remember clawing onto everything as hard as I could. It was never, 'I don't wanna do this;' more, 'Holy shit, this is pretty confronting.' But then we jump. The first six or seven seconds is unbelievable. It's actually a really phenomenal feeling. There was no fear at that point.
When did the first chute open?
Around that time. I expected a big thrust, which is what all the training and instruction before the jump is intended to prepare you for. But that obviously didn't happen. That's when my first alarm went off. Bill, my instructor, behind me, was just scrambling. It seemed like he was trying to manoeuvre and shake the cables to get the parachute to open. It was just dangling there in the wind. That's when the terror really set in and I started to freak out. Things were going wrong and they were going wrong really fast.
After a little bit of time, the second parachute comes out. I look up and I see a white parachute tangled with a yellow one, and they're both not open. At this stage we still haven't slowed down at all. I can't process anything, and I just hear Bill screaming at me – I mean, he's screaming at the top of his lungs to keep my feet down and keep my body together, because we started spiralling and shaking.
What could you see of the ground at this point?
Everything started to become more and more clear. It was happening so fast. At that point, when I saw both parachutes were open, I fully accepted death and I knew it was coming for me. There was this weird calm of, 'Okay, this is happening. It's going to be the worst pain I've ever endured, but once it's there I'm gonna be dead.' So I had accepted it. The overwhelming emotion I remember was guilt. I felt such immense guilt for bringing my family there to watch me die. I saw them in my mind and just felt so sorry for their own terror and their own trauma and for them witnessing my death.
You didn't think you'd die instantly?
I knew there was going to be pain and then death. I saw them as a combination. They were going to work together. It's so hard to fully unpack the thoughts that were going through my mind because it all just seemed like too many thoughts, and none of them were being processed. I just knew that death was a certainty and it was right there. The way your body and your mind prepare you for death – it kind of shuts everything down, and I just became so numb. I was ready for that impact and I knew it was going to be the worst imaginable pain ever, and that death would shortly follow.
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What were those split seconds like when you saw the ground come up to meet you?
I remember the impact felt like a couple hits rather than just one giant hit, because we kind of bounced, or ricocheted, into the embankment of a lake on a golf course. So we're on the edge of the lake, semi-submerged. I remember opening my eyes and seeing the sky and touching the earth, and I was so overcome with shock I tried to start screaming, but I was extremely winded and I was gasping for air. I landed on my instructor, essentially, but we landed perpendicular, so we're crossed, where I kind of landed more on my back he landed more on his legs. I had more of my lower body in the lake and he had more like a half of his left side in the lake.
Were you in pain at this point?
I totally remember feeling pain. The first thing I felt was this breathlessness, and then just this searing pain throughout my entire body, and I just couldn't feel anything. I was overcome with so much pain that everything just became numb, and my spine felt like it was on fire. It was just the most intense... I can't even describe it. It was the worst pain I think anyone could really endure; I'd hit the earth from 15,000 feet, going 80 kilometres an hour.
I couldn't really move my body or feel my body, but with the strength I did have, I looked over at Bill and he's unconscious. He's blue, he's lying underneath me and I'm using all the strength I have, and I grab him, squeezing his hand with my hand, just trying to make him come to. I remember saying to him, "Please Bill, you've got to wake up, you've got to get through this, I'm so sorry," already apologising because I felt so responsible. It felt like forever until he came to, but before that I thought I'd killed him and that I was laying on some dead guy.
What did he say when he regained consciousness?
He started screaming. He was in a lot of pain – he broke his legs and his pelvis and I couldn't move. I'm feeling like a burden because I'm actually strapped to him, causing him more pain. We both just started screaming, this primal scream. Eventually, three golfers who saw us fall come near us and they unhook us and kind of lift us out of the water. At this point I'm still sobbing. One of them said, "You're fine, you're OK, you'll get through this, it's all good." I see Bill over there and he's still screaming. They're trying to keep my back up and my neck straight and console me. That's when the ambulance comes. Bill jumped in a helicopter and was lifted away, I was put into the back of the ambulance, and I see my family running across the hill to find me. They said, "We love you, you're going to be OK, we'll see you at the hospital." They were a mess as well. I'm still apologising at this point; I felt so guilty. I'm getting jabs of morphine and getting my clothes cut off me and I'm crying. It was a lot to take in.
I can imagine. I'm amazed you both regained consciousness at that point.
I ask myself the same questions over and over again. There's always going to be things that can't really be explained. Everything that needed to happen in order for us to survive – all those slim, minuscule chances – they all needed to be in our favour, and miraculously, they were.
I guess those things were that your parachute slowed you down enough, and you hit the ground at an angle that softened the blow?
Yeah, that's what I think. Part of the impact being on the edge of a lake, the ground was a bit softer, and maybe the spinning did help. Nothing takes away from the impact or the speed. Where we landed, how we landed, even the weather. The way we were strapped together. There are so many elements and it was just, somehow, how it needed to be.
"I felt such immense guilt for bringing my family there to watch me die."
What was hospital like?
That first night in hospital was absolute torture. I didn't sleep a wink that night. I was calling the nurse constantly to put me out, but I couldn't shut my brain off. I was still in such a state of hysteria. Every time I closed my eyes I could feel myself falling. I got clarity the day after. I could just start to feel my limbs again at this stage. They told me I'd broken my spine and that I'd make a recovery, but I still thought I wasn't going to walk properly again or that I'd be disabled for the rest of my life.
Did you feel amazed that you weren't more badly injured?
I wasn't in amazement at all. There was no positivity. Nothing had a silver lining. It was dismal and harrowing. I didn't see any happiness. Everything was like, 'Fuck, my body is ruined, my mind is ruined, this is the rest of my life.' The classic signs of depression started so soon. No sense of any positivity to take from it at all.
What were the months after like?
I basically locked myself in my room for about four months and I didn't speak to anyone or see anyone. I was just sitting in this dark space, barely watching TV. I was depressed. I wouldn't eat, I wouldn't shower, I'd yell at my parents every time they came near me because I felt like a monster. PTSD started to rear its ugly head. I was having constant nightmares and flashbacks, and I'd wake up from a nightmare in the middle of the day and I'd be screaming, throwing my pillows at the wall and yelling, and mum would have to physically constrain me and console me. But eventually things get better. By being more open I can educate people a little more to seek help if they're suffering too.
How long did they say it would take for a full recovery?
They said three months, but it ended up being four. I can walk again, I can function. To this day I do a lot of physiotherapy and psychological therapy, mainly with my physical injuries. I'm just limited. I can't really play the sports that I used to. I'm slowly getting back into it and I do have hopes of getting the same life back. I can't really go to the gym, can't really ride my bike, I get back pain and neck pain every single day, I need a special chair at work. But you wouldn't know by looking at me. I can walk, I can drive. I've had to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it, but hopefully with a bit more physiotherapy I can do more and more.
Thank you, Brad.