skydiver
The skydiver escaped with minor injuries Stock photo/Reuters

A parachute jump almost ended in tragedy on Wednesday (3 May) when a skydiver was left dangling from a small airplane 2,500m (8,200ft) in the air for nearly an hour – before landing on an airfield covered with foam.

The 45-year-old jumper had taken off from a landing strip near Holstebro, Denmark, when he became entangled in a cord and was left hanging underneath the aircraft.

The pilot, who had been unaware his Cessna plane was pulling the skydiver through the air, was only informed when a frantic radio message came from those on the ground.

"As soon as [the skydiver's] instructor, who jumped before him, was able to get radio contact with the pilot and people on the ground, a rescue operation was started," duty officer Jens Claumarch of Mid and West Jutland Police told news agency Ritzau.

"At that point, the aircraft was down to a height of around 500 metres, but went up to around a kilometre in case he came loose and needed to use his parachute."

Pilot Leif Johannsen, who has been flying for almost 40 years, described the situation as a "nightmare scenario" and said he was in constant contact with those on the ground as they thought of a way to save the man.

And then a plan was hatched: Johannsen would prepare to land the plane at the lowest possible speed as firefighters on the ground covered part of the airfield's landing strip in foam, softening the skydiver's impact.

A helicopter ambulance would stand by in case of serious injuries.

"On the way down I was thinking whether I was about to kill a man. What will happen? There was only one method left, and that was to try and land with him," Johannsen told TV Midtvest.

Circling to burn fuel in case of a crash, Johannsen managed to land the aircraft and have his attached skydiver hit the foam, with him dragged about 200m until the aircraft came to a halt.

Miraculously, the jumper survived and suffered only minor injuries, including bruises and a strained groin, duty officer Claumarch said.

"There's not much need for him to play the lottery this week. He's used up all his luck," he added.

Mid and West Jutland Police praised the pilot's actions, calling him a "hero".

The incident was caused by a failure to cut the static line attached at one end to the aircraft and at the other end to the top of the jumper's deployment bag, Associated Press reported.