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Parachutist ends up high and dry

Woman sits in tree-top.

A 22-year-old woman parachutist did not land safely and ended up about 80 feet up within a pine tree just off Colleton Loop after jumping from a plane at the Lowcountry Regional Airport Friday morning.

Personnel from the Colleton County Fire-Rescue Squad, the Walterboro Police and Fire Departments, and the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene just after 10 a.m. Rescue efforts were hampered by the location of the jumper.

 The location was within a wooded area just behind a residence, so fire ladder trucks responding to the scene could not reach the location. The same scenario was also true when bucket trucks from local electric companies were considered for the job. The idea of a helicopter dropping a line to the victim was also briefly considered and rejected.

Parachutist’s friends show concern.

Fire-Rescue was notified by airport personnel concerning a female parachutist who had landed in a tree near Robertson Blvd and Old Air Base Road at 11:01 a.m. Several Fire-Rescue Units were dispatched to the area and began looking for the woman.

Additional emergency calls were made to the Sheriff’s Office reporting the woman actually landed in a wooded area off North Lemacks Street near the old Colleton Middle School near the intersection of Colleton Loop and North Lemacks Streets, about two blocks southwest of the originally reported location. Fire-Rescue responded with an engine, heavy rescue vehicles, a ladder truck, an ambulance, and several support vehicles.

The location turned out to be within the Walterboro City Limits, so their Public Safety Department was notified and also responded with several police units, a fire engine and ladder truck.

The woman’s red parachute was caught in the top of the large pine tree and she was hanging in her harness from the tree. She was able to position herself on several small limbs near the top of the tree and remained there throughout the ordeal. The tree was well off of the road, down in a swampy area and was not accessible by any of the emergency vehicles. She was also out of reach of any ground ladders the Fire Department had.

A multitude of rescue vehicles.

A call was made to the Coast Guard but they refused to respond inland.

Arrangements were made with the South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, or SC-HART, which is a collaborative effort between the State Urban Search and Rescue Task Force (SC-TF1) under the direction of S.C. LLR, Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Army National Guard Aviation Unit based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base near Columbia.

This program has trained professional rescuers from SC-TF1 and highly-trained pilots and crew members from the Army National Guard and together they make a cohesive unit capable of performing helicopter rescue using the UH-60 Blackhawk. They began assembling a team of rescuers with an estimated response time of an hour.

Coastal Electric Co-Op also sent a crew to the scene. It was felt that their smaller bucket truck may have been able to maneuver behind the home, but it was discovered that no vehicles could reach the area.

 In the meantime, Murdaugh’s Tree Service, a local tree company, was contacted and also responded with two tree technicians. They arrived in about 25 minutes from a job site in Branchville. Randal Thompson and Lee Murdaugh came to the scene with rope and rigging equipment.

Using leg spikes, Thompson basically walked up the tree, the entire 75 feet with little difficulty. He placed a different harness on the woman, then assisted her out of her skydiving gear and tied her off to the tree. After she was secure, Mr. Murdaugh, who was still on the ground, brought her down. She was lowered from the top of the tree and was very glad to be back on the ground. She only received some minor scrapes and did not require transportation to the hospital. Mr. Thompson then removed the parachute from the tree and also lowered it to the ground, before he descended. The woman was back on the ground at 12:17 p.m., just a little over an hour after the incident occurred.

Rescuers were later informed that while descending, the woman’s parachute was hit by another skydiver, which caused it to collapse. It either reopened or she used her backup chute, but by that time was close to the ground. She did not have good control or time to make corrections and landed in the tree.

Another Skydiver saw the incident occur and landed near the site at the old Colleton Middle School. He ran into the woods where she was in the tree and helped guide Fire-Rescue personnel to her location. She was in good spirits throughout the ordeal. She communicated with rescue personnel on the ground and patiently waited until Mr. Thompson climbed up to her.