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Mary Interviews Kevin Vetter

By Mary Traub - November 2nd, 2012

Kevin VetterI had a great time talking to long-time skydiving competitor Kevin Vetter.  You might remember that Kevin was awarded the Skydiver of the Year in 1995. What did Kevin do to achieve this award?  Well, many of you already know the story and for those of you who don’t, grab a drink and relax because this is one of those great Bonfire Stories ever told.  And best of all…it’s a true story.

It was US Nationals 1995, held right here at Skydive Arizona.  The day before Canopy events started, Kevin and his team, Frayed Knot were doing practice jumps. 

They went up to practice 4-way Sequential.  It was their last scheduled jump of the day.  At that time Kevin had made about 1000CRW jumps.

This jump was uneventful…until about 6,000ft.

The team was transitioning from a Stairstep Diamond, to Diamond.  As each piece of the formation began the transition, Paul Joseph and another member of Frayed Knot collided hard.  And their canopies wrapped. The first jumper cutaway his parachute and with that, Paul Joseph, who had about 500 CRW jumps, found himself wrapped completely inside the first jumper’s cutaway parachute.  Although he had a good parachute over his head, Paul’s entire body was cocooned inside the cutaway.  Unable to move his arms, only Paul’s head was visible.  Paul tried desperately to work his arms free in order to grab his toggles, but was completely unable.

Vetter, who was part of the other piece of the formation, watched as Paul’s canopy began a slow spiral turn, heading away from the drop zone, traveling with the wind and toward the freeway traffic.

Immediately Kevin sprung into action.  He immediately assessed the situation, as he grabbed his front risers and headed toward his good friend and teammate, Paul Joseph’s canopy. Still in an uncontrolled spiral.

As Kevin grabbed his front risers, he was able to exactly match Paul’s fall rate and timed the slow turn in such a way, that he was able to calculate exactly how the two canopies could connect.

As the canopies merged, Kevin brought his canopy down right on top of Paul’s canopy, intercepting his slow turn and Top Docking Paul.

They were both jumping Lightning 160s.

Immediately Kevin began to steer both canopies back toward the drop zone.

At about 4000 ft., Kevin looked down at Paul’s head which was sticking out of the cocoon and yelled, “Can you get out?”

Paul looked up and with wide eyes and yelled back, “No!”

Kevin told Paul, “Keep working it!”

As Kevin steered the two canopies back toward the drop zone, he would periodically call out the altitude.  “3000 feet!”… ”2500 ft.”… ”2,000 feet!”

As the two canopies turned parallel to the road along the drop zone, Paul looked up again.  Kevin called “Can you cut way?”

Paul sarcastically called back, “Uh, NO!”

Kevin called, “Keep Working!”

At 1,000 feet, Kevin called down  to Paul, “We’re gonna land it!”

Paul could only respond, “Uh Ok.”

Meanwhile a videographer was shooting Ground-To-Air-Video.  The shot was following the pair directly as they descended toward the drop zone.

As the video showed the pair approaching their landing, they suddenly disappeared behind an airport building.  There was a momentary pause and then the video clearly showed an image of a large, brown, mushroom shaped cloud of dust and dirt, rising up into the air.

What the video didn’t show was as Kevin brought Paul, who was still trying to free his arms and had no control, in at about 100 ft, Kevin grabbed his front risers for maximum speed and lift.

At about 50-75 feet, Kevin hit the brakes hard in order to sink it in, like an accuracy jump.

As Paul hit the ground, he relaxed his body and PLFd.

Kevin’s feet were connected to Paul’s center lines, and at the very moment that Paul’s body hit the ground, the lines went slack and with Paul as heavy anchor, the pendulum motion resulted in a giant face plant for Kevin.  Whack!

And then, there was just the giant cloud of dust.

What saved Kevin, he later said, the 25 pound weight vest that he was wearing, which took most of the impact.  The landing knocked the wind out of Kevin momentarily. 

When he rolled over and stood up, he saw Paul, climbing out of the mess of canopy and their eyes met.

“You ok?” Kevin asked.

“You ok?” Paul replied.

Both unhurt, they climbed into a pickup truck that had come to take them back to the DZ. 

I asked Kevin if he and Paul discussed what just happened or if Kevin and Paul realized the amazing thing which had just taken place.

Kevin, said no, they were only concerned with whether the other was unhurt and able to compete the very next day.  Their only other concern was if there was any damage to their gear, which would prevent them from competing in the meet.

Since there was no damage to their gear and they were both unhurt, they packed their parachutes and went off together to have a few beers.

I asked Kevin if they talked about the jump and he said, they basically both just said, “Nice Jump”.

According to Vetter, he didn’t give the jump another thought, until about eight months later, when Mike Truffer, Publisher of Skydiving Magazine, called and said that Judge Sherry Schrimsher had watched the video and submitted a nomination for Skydiver of the Year and Kevin Vetter had won the award.

Vetter was stunned and honored to receive the award, but with his calm demeanor he really didn’t think he had done anything out of the ordinary.

Kevin just thought he was in the right place at the right time and with his CRW skills he was able to calculate exactly how he could connect the two parachutes at precisely the right moment.

I asked Kevin if he thought this skill was something that other jumpers could do.  He said, of course. People should recognize it can be done.  And if you are in a position to do something, never give up.

To this day, with his S&TA background Kevin always counts canopies on every jump after he deploys and if he sees a cutaway or a jumper landing out, he always flies towards and lands with them.

Now, with over 9,000 jumps and over 30 years in the sport, Kevin says he always watches out for others.

Vetter is also a Private Pilot with a single engine instrument rating.  He owns a Cessna 182 and in fact, flew from his home in Phoenix to Skydive Arizona this morning for 16-way.

More than just a Bonfire Story now, Kevin Vetter was awarded Skydiver of the Year in 1995.

Thanks Kevin for sharing another one of your great Skydiving stories! Mary

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