Lifestyle

"My parachute didn't open": The girl that 'fell from the sky' on surviving a skydiving accident

When the parachute didn't deploy, Emma thought her life was over. But in a way, it was only just beginning.

By Lorna Gray
Emma carey

Emma Carey, 25, shares her astonishing story:

The rush of pure adrenaline as I jumped out of the helicopter was like nothing I'd ever experienced.

I was doing my first skydive and honestly, I was more excited than scared while my instructor and I plummeted into the sky.

It was June 2013 and I was in Switzerland with my best friend Jemma. We were five days into a three-month backpacking stint through Europe and we both decided to do the dive over the Swiss Alps – it felt like a very fun rite of passage.

My instructor and I jumped ahead of Jemma and hers. I'd shouted "I love you!" to her, as I soared down into the sky. Jemma was absolutely terrified in the lead-up, but I remember telling myself I had to relish every breathtaking sight.

But it wasn't long before that adrenaline and wonder turned into sheer terror.

I could feel the release of the parachute and we slowed down slightly but the chute wasn't above us, where it should've been.

"Is this normal?" I shouted to my instructor but he didn't answer.

It was my first skydive – I had no idea what was normal – but it becoming increasingly apparent we weren't supposed to falling straight down like this. We should've been gliding back to the ground under the parachute.

I kept shouting to the instructor but he was completely unresponsive.

I realised we were indeed plummeting straight to the ground. That realisation was the single most terrifying moment of my life.

So many thoughts flooded through my brain at once.

But the most vivid was: "I don't want to die, I love my life."

The fall probably only lasted about a minute in total but it felt like I was in slow motion.

Until I was brought brutally back to reality with an almighty thud – me bearing the brunt of the fall – face down with the instructor on top of my back.

I had literally fallen from the sky - it was excruciatingly painful.

I struggled to gather my thoughts through the cloud of agony as I tried to roll the instructor off of my back.

Which is the point I realised I could move my legs. At all.

I can't even begin to describe how I felt in that moment. I was panicking so much, with an unconscious instructor on top of me who I didn't know was even alive at the time (thankfully he was).

Screaming in agony and terrified that I couldn't feel my legs, I could only wait to be rescued.

After what felt like hours, Jemma and her instructor reached us and called an ambulance. I was moved onto a spinal board and airlifted to hospital.

It was so surreal –like it was happening to someone else.

One minute I'd been completely carefree – the only thing I was thinking about was what country me and Jemma would be visiting next – now I was lying in a hospital bed in Switzerland, completely numb from the waist down.

I now know the instructor pulled the parachute a little too late, and it got tangled with the emergency chute that had been triggered at the same time. The parachutes got tangled around his neck, strangling him until he passed out.

We were both unbelievably lucky to be alive.

But I was severely injured. I'd broken my back and got a spinal cord injury at L1, making me paraplegic. I'd also broken my sacrum, pelvis and jaw and shattered most of my teeth.

Then came the most devastating blow of all:

"It's unlikely you'll be able to walk again," one of the doctors told me, matter-of-factly.

The magnitude of those words was unreal. Thinking about a future without the use of my legs was soul-destroying.

I could only wait and try not to let myself get into too dark a place. My mum and sister flew over from Australia and it felt so weird seeing them touching my legs but not being able to feel it.

Watching needles be injected into my thigh made me feel sick – it didn't even feel like my body any more.

I spent a month in hospital in Switzerland before I was flown back to hospital in Sydney.

I'd been pretty doped up on painkillers and the prospect of going back in Australia was scary. Back home I wouldn't have anywhere to hide, it was back to the real world but this time I couldn't walk.

I started physio rehab and basically had to teach my body how to do everything again.

All of my focus went into rehab – I felt like it was the one thing keeping me on track. And yes, it was unbelievably hard to accept the situation I was in, but as I looked around at the other people in my spinal ward who'd sustained worse injuries than myself, I was just determined to keep my head up and keep going.

The bleak prognosis from Aussie doctors was much the same as it had been in Switzerland but I made little milestones over the next few months, each a new beacon of hope.

The first was wiggling my toes.

Then it was supporting my whole weight on a frame.

I was in the spinal ward for three months in total before I was allowed to go home. While that might seem like a happy milestone, it was actually incredibly difficult.

Much like flying back to Australia felt like coming back to reality, it was ten times worse going home and having to deal with everyday life.

In the ward, there were experts on hand to help me. Everything in there was catered to wheelchairs and stuff I could reach. It felt so strange going back to my old bedroom following the most traumatic and intense four months of my life.

But I was making leaps and bounds with rehab – I don't think doctors could believe it. I couldn't believe it myself!

Although, I still couldn't feel my lower limbs, I was able to take a few steps with the walking frame.

It was such an amazing moment – one of my best moments ever, in fact.

It wasn't long before I moved onto crutches, then was able to move with a single crutch.

The best moment came a year a half after my accident when I was able to take a few tentative steps unaided. It really did feel like I'd defied the odds stacked against me.

But the biggest change isn't the fact I'm a paraplegic who learnt to walk again – it's been the change in me.

I moved to the Gold Coast and was documenting my progress through social media and my website, and the response has been overwhelming.

It's definitely helped me realise what an absolute gift I've been given.

While my muscles don't work like they used to and sometimes daily life can be a bit of a struggle, I always remember to be thankful.

Not many people can say they fell from the sky and lived to tell the tale. My outlook is now one of hope and positivity and I appreciate every single day.

I know I've changed as a person so much and hope to continue to spread a little positivity, wherever I go.