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Mary Interviews Kevin Vetter
By Mary Traub - November 2nd, 2012
I 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
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
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.
And then, there was just the giant cloud of
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
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
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
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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