AIR traffic controllers thought the pilot who asked permission "to come overhead at 1,500 feet and throw one of our passengers out" was joking. They watched, amused, as "a bundle" fell out and disappeared near hangars at Coventry airport. Only when they saw fire and rescue crews rushing across the airfield 20 minutes later did they realise that what they had seen was not a joke.
The "bundle" dropped from the aircraft was Dave Clements, 45, a mechanic, of Dunkeswell, Devon, one of the crew of the 1944 Douglas DC3 which had been dropping poppy petals over a war memorial on Remembrance Day last year. Mr Clements had not, however, been thrown out. He had attempted a parachute jump.
"His exit through the rear door was uneventful but before he cleared the aircraft he struck part of it, breaking his left arm," said an Air Accident Investigations Branch report on the incident, published yesterday. Mr Clements's descent became "violently unstable" as he struggled to open his parachute. He also failed to release the reserve chute.
At 200 feet the main parachute opened partially but could not save him from landing on his back on the hangar, suffering broken ribs and internal injuries. The report said the control tower had asked the pilot what had happened and was told a parachutist had jumped.
It added: "Because the bundle seen leaving the aircraft had appeared small the controllers continued to believe that they were the victims of a practical joke." The AAIB report recommended modifications to the aircraft to prevent similar accidents occurring.