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Skydiver Sues Over Jump that Went Wrong

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Joel Griffin, who said she felt as though her body had exploded, after the accident, and leaving court yesterday. Joel Griffin thought she was dying. Having crashed to the ground from a height of 3,000 metres, she had no feeling in her legs and was in excruciating pain. Told by doctors she would never walk again, the 25-year-old skydiver has overcome that, but still suffers back pain, cannot play many sports and is unable to work fulltime, she told the NSW District Court yesterday.

Joel Griffin

Mrs Griffin, who has a six-month-old child, is suing the Byron Bay Skydiving Centre, claiming it was negligent by misleading her and failing to safely supervise the jump.

Her counsel, Mr Andrew Morrison, SC, said in his opening address that despite his client's concerns that the wind was too strong, she was persuaded to go and reassured it was safe.

Mrs Griffin had been told in her training that she should not skydive if the wind exceeded 15 knots, he said. Meteorological evidence would show the wind was well over 15-20 knots.

The accident happened on November 2, 1995. It was her 28th jump and part of a publicity stunt. The skydiving business had been sold, and the old owners had planned to exchange contracts in midair.

Before the aircraft took off, Mrs Griffin said, the safety officer on the ground, Mr Steve Lewis, had said to her "the wind was a bit suss" and that he would measure it.

She had told him she would not go, but he said: "It'll be okay. I'll radio the plane if it gets any stronger."

"Once we got up I noticed there was a lot of white caps on the water, and trees were moving around a lot."

She told the instructors in the aircraft, who told her "it'd be okay".

As they were climbing out of the aircraft, she checked with the pilot whether Mr Lewis had made any communication about wind speed. He had not, and they went ahead with the jump.

"I could tell the wind was very strong," she said.

"I was flying along just going straight ... and I felt myself pull backwards really hard and looked up and saw my parachute was tangled. I just started to spiral."

She landed extremely hard, she said, and it felt as though her body had exploded.

"At first I thought I was going to die. I couldn't feel my legs."

She was flown to Lismore Hospital with a fractured spine and was told she would never walk again. She was later transferred to Sydney for surgery.

Since the accident Mrs Griffin has taken part in two tandem dives, but in these jumps the instructor took the full brunt of the landing, she said.

"Skydiving for me is a passion, and I guess I was denying that anything was wrong with me to get up and do it again."

She wants compensation for past and future medical expenses, and for economic loss.

The hearing continues.

Photos: Rick Stevens and Jon Reid


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