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Survivors Recall '92 Skydive Crash

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Los Angeles - Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld remembers nothing about the airplane crash that nearly killed him, or the five weeks he lay in a coma afterward. What he does remember is that one of his best friends died on the skydiving plane that crashed 10 years ago last Monday.

"It infuriates me," he says of the crash. "I'm still very good friends with his mother, with his sister. I see them and talk to them and it just kills me, that I had anything to do with it."

In one of the worst accidents in skydiving history, the twin-engine de Havilland plunged to the ground during takeoff at Perris Valley Airport, killing the pilot and 15 skydivers.

Brodsky-Chenfeld, 40, was among six survivors. He was coaching American and Dutch skydivers and had recruited some to come out to Southern California for training. Among the dead was his friend James Layne, whom he had taught to skydive in Ohio.

Federal officials determined that contaminated fuel caused the right engine of the DHC-6-200 Twin Otter to lose power after takeoff. The pilot then made a mistake.

The overloaded plane's right wing dipped and struck the ground. Witnesses said the craft bounced upright and then nose-dived, shearing off its nose and wings.

Troy Widgery, 35, of Denver, recalls the aircraft was 300 feet in the air when it rolled over and he saw the ground out of the door. The crash knocked him out for several seconds. When he awoke, he found himself on top of bodies, fearful that the aircraft would catch fire.

"I thought, well we lived through that and now it's gonna burn. Gotta get out of here. Everyone was either dead, dying or couldn't move."

Widgery spent several days in the hospital with a broken hip, collarbone and other injuries. "I was jumping two months later. Once I could walk again, I was skydiving," he said.

The skydiving school about 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles survived and has flourished, now handling about 10,000 student jumps a year.

Pictures of the dead hang on the school walls, and there is a memorial park near the drop zone. On Monday, friends will gather there for skydiving and a barbecue.

"It's an opportunity to be among people who truly understand our pain," said Melanie Conatser, co-owner of Perris Valley Skydiving.

Brodsky-Chenfeld, of Chandler, Ariz., suffered a head injury, a broken neck, a collapsed lung and other internal injuries in the crash. He is "covered with scars" and still takes medication for back pain and other problems caused by his injuries.

Yet he, too, was back to skydiving only months after the crash, following two major surgeries and with a brace around his neck. He has made 9,000 jumps since the crash, and started a championship skydiving team, Arizona Airspeed.

"It's hard to ever consider a life that doesn't include that," he said. "It's really important that every day of your life you're doing something that really challenges you, something that you love to do."

~ Associated Press

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