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Red Devil 'owes rescuer a pint'

Published 20/06/2015

Members of the British Army freefall parachute display team the Red Devils (Stephen Miller/PA)
Members of the British Army freefall parachute display team the Red Devils (Stephen Miller/PA)
Members of the British Army freefall parachute display team the Red Devils (Stephen Miller/PA)

The Red Devil parachutist who was saved in a mid-air rescue when his parachute did not open properly said he owes his team mate a pint of beer.

Fast-thinking Corporal Wayne Shorthouse, 32, claimed that he was no hero after grabbing Corporal Mike French, 34, amid the tangled canopy and bringing the pair down to land safely in water.

Thousands of worried spectators watched as danger loomed for the soldiers, who are part of the British Army's freefall parachute display squad, when an intricate formation at the Whitehaven Air Show in Cumbria went wrong.

Cpl French, of Cumbria, said he owes his colleague "a pint of beer maybe" for helping him out because "my parachute wasn't too clever".

Cpl Shorthouse, of Plymouth, said he was "just doing his job" .

Thousands of anxious onlookers saw the stricken parachutist "violently kicking" and tangled up in his parachute above Queens Dock. The Army confirmed that this was the first time a parachute has failed in 25 years.

Cpl French said: "It is all part of being in the skydiving world.

"It is a very dangerous sport. Display parachuting, and especially canopy formations within display parachuting, is a very very difficult aspect of skydiving. Constantly training is one of the things that kept us (safe) and the communication."

He said they were talking to each other and directing the steering on the way down which ended with "a nice splash" as they hit the water at Queens Dock.

Cpl French added: "Next time, you will see a big formation in the sky and it will be landing in the arena."

Cpl French explained that the drama unfolded while they were stacking their canopies in formation. Cpl Shorthouse was on the top and he dangled beneath the tangled canopies.

He said: "This situation is something we prepare ourselves for in our vigorous training, and so I was able to give instructions to Wayne above so that he could pilot us safely into the drop zone which, in this case, was the harbour.

"Though this is the first time this happened on a public display it has happened before in training, and so we were well prepared for it and didn't feel as though we were in any danger. We reacted as a team and that is what got us out of what was a potentially dangerous situation."

Cpl Shorthouse said: "When something like this happens, the training just kicks in. The time spent practising the drills pays off in situations like this. You instinctively know what to do.

"I'm glad I was able to help my team mate out, but we are all trained to be able to deal with emergency situations like this."

It did not seem so calm from the ground. Onlooker Lucy Milne told BBC Breakfast: "He was violently kicking his legs and he was trying to get free or trying to manoeuvre. Above him was another man tangled up in his parachute. His parachute was collapsed. They started picking up speed and he was wiggling his legs even more."

They then landed in the water.

Everyone clapped when they both popped up in the water and there was a "big sigh of relief that they were both safe". A rescue boat picked them up and one of them gave a wave to show he was safe, according to Ms Milne.

The Red Devils is currently made up of 12 serving soldiers from the Parachute Regiment's three full-time battalions.

Cpl Shorthouse is the team's display coordinator and has made more than 1,350 jumps while Cpl French, from Cumbria, has completed more than 1,500 jumps and is a tandem coordinator.

Cpl Shorthouse, who began his service with 3 Para in 2001, has completed tours in Northern Ireland, two tours of Iraq and three tours of Afghanistan.

Cpl French, who joined the Red Devils in 2010, has served three tours of Northern Ireland, two tours of Iraq, two tours of Afghanistan, and also served in Kosovo.

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