Kevin Hughes from Buderim has received a bravery award for his heroics in a skydive rescue in 1993. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily
Kevin Hughes from Buderim has received a bravery award for his heroics in a skydive rescue in 1993. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily Iain Curry

Pilot rewarded for bravery after freeing trapped skydiver

IT TAKES a special sort of person to throw themselves out of a plane 4km above the earth.

It takes a rare type of bravery to take your hands off the controls of that plane and hang your body out the door to try and free the skydiver who has become caught on the door.

Almost 20 years ago Kevin Hughes found himself in that exact position, dangling outside his plane as he tried to free the final jumper in a four-person skydive at Toogoolawah.

It was enough to earn him a gong when the Australian Bravery Awards were announced last night.

"I can remember it like it was yesterday," the Buderim man said.

"I'd done a full day, four or five jumps prior to it and this one was a four-way jump - three men and a lady. Sue was her name.

"They were practising for a competition and we were at 12,000 feet, everything was normal so I gave the thumbs up, opened the door and away they went."

But when Mr Hughes tried to close the door, he realised something had gone horribly wrong - the final jumper had become caught in the doorway.

The ex-military man and former fireman knew he had to remain calm.

"I stopped for a few seconds and began planning how to deal with this," he said.

"Firstly I had to make sure she was conscious, otherwise if I did manage to free her and she couldn't deploy her chute then we had a major problem.

"I began thinking about making a mayday call and heading down to Brisbane, stalling the plane on the river so divers could go under the water and free her."

Once Mr Hughes confirmed the tangled skydiver was conscious and able to operate her parachute, he began to plotting how to free her.

"I had to somehow maintain the aircraft over the drop zone, so I positioned the plane and then released my harness, keeping the plane in a slight left turn," he said.

"I was in and out of the aircraft, trying to cut Sue free then back in and trimming the plane's line."

It took Mr Hughes about 15 minutes to free the skydiver, during which time the aircraft had plunged from 12,000 feet to 5000 feet.

"I finally cut her free and she fell right over the drop zone so I jumped back in my seat, banked the plane and checked to see if her chute deployed, which luckily it did," he said.

"I suppose it could've been pretty dangerous, but let me tell you I was holding on like dear death because I knew if I went then Sue was gone as well."

Mr Hughes said he believed the woman he freed used to be known as Sue Cobb and that she still lived on the Coast, but he had lost contact with her over the years.

If you know Sue Cobb, contact the Daily on 54308080.

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