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Diver Catches Up With Unconscious Colleague, Releases Chute

April 23, 1987

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ A skydiver went into a headlong dive to catch up with an unconscious colleague and open her parachute seconds before she would have struck the ground after a fall of nearly three miles.

Diane Williams was about 3,500 feet, or 10 seconds from the ground, when Gregory Robertson pulled out of his dive, propped her into an upright position, yanked her ripcord, then released his own chute, Robertson and witnesses said.

Ms. Williams, who observers said hit the ground flat on her back, remained hospitalized Wednesday in serious but stable condition under intensive care with several broken ribs, extensive internal injuries and a lung contusion, a Scottsdale Memorial Hospital official said.

Robertson landed safely and continued diving after Ms. Williams was placed aboard an air abmulance.

Ms. Williams, 31, of Slaton, Texas, and a veteran of about 50 jumps, was knocked unconscious when she collided with another diver, Guy Fitzwater, during a formation drop Saturday near Coolidge, about 50 miles southeast of Phoenix.

She, Fitzwater and four others were to have linked hands after jumping from a plane at about 13,500 feet. Robertson, 25, who says he has made about 1,500 jumps, was in charge of seeing divers off the plane safely.

The collision occurred at about 9,000 feet, Robertson said Tuesday evening during an interview while visiting Ms. Williams at the hospital.

Robertson said he had been floating with arms and legs spread but pinned his arms to his side, closed his legs and - with small movements of his shoulders - aimed himself toward toward the spinning, tumbling woman.

He estimates he was plunging toward the desert at about 200 mph.

Bill Rothe, Ms. Williams’ fiance and a skydiver, watched from the ground and estimated she was moving 140 to 160 mph, in contrast to a normal free-fall speed of about 120 mph.

″I pulled up too soon the first time,″ Robertson said, but then he dropped next to Ms. Williams and released her chute.

Fitzwater said in an interview from his home in Van Nuys, Calif., that he suffered serious bruises but remained conscious.

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