ST. LOUIS — Shawn Kinmartin found himself with fast-dwindling options as he struggled to control a skydiving plane after a jumper’s parachute damaged the aircraft’s tail.
The 21-year-old pilot and college student wrestled the Cessna 182 away from populated areas toward farmland southeast of St. Louis and decided his only hope was bailing out — never mind that it was his first parachute jump ever.
“I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ But I knew it was the right decision,” Kinmartin said, describing a shaky moment as he climbed out the plane door on Saturday, grabbed a strut and tumbled out at an altitude of more than 2,000 feet.
Kinmartin was being praised Monday for his poise during the ordeal that unfolded on his fifth flight that day with four clients of Fly Free Skydiving, where the son of an aircraft mechanic had worked for a few weeks out of an airport in Missouri’s Crystal City. The plane slammed harmlessly into a corn field and Kinmartin and the jumpers landed safely.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said the plane became disabled after the last skydiver’s auxiliary parachute accidentally deployed as the jumper left the plane. It damaged the portion of the tail section that controls the aircraft’s climb and descent.
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