Sgt Rachel Fisk: Tangled parachute could have caused death, inquest told

The death of an RAF instructor whose parachute failed to open could have been caused by a tangled pilot chute, an inquest heard.

Sgt Rachel Fisk, 32, died during a free fall jump in a field near Bicester, Oxfordshire, on 2 September 2021.

Footage of the incident was captured by a GoPro camera mounted on her helmet, a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said.

The jury inquest at Oxford Coroner's Court is due to conclude on 24 May.

Darren Salter, senior coroner for Oxfordshire, said Sgt Fisk had completed more than 500 jumps as a parachutist and skydiver.

The jury heard that on the day of her death she was leading a one-day course consisting of four tandem jumps.

Each was accompanied by two instructors who filmed the tandem dives of another instructor and a student.

Witnesses said the first three skydives had gone well, and Sgt Easton Harris and Sgt Fisk were set to film the fourth.

'Horrible accident'

In a statement, Sgt Harris said as Sgt Fisk had more filming experience they had switched places in the aircraft, so that she jumped last to film anything he missed.

"After the third lift, she picked the second parachute instead of picking the first one," he said, adding that was "quite normal".

It was explained that before each skydive the parachutist has to pull on the toggle that initiates the parachute opening and confirm whether they are happy with it.

Sgt Harris said Sgt Fisk had confirmed her automatic activation device (AAD), which releases the reserve parachute, was turned on.

Mr Salter said evidence had shown that it had operated properly.

Sgt Harris said Sgt Fisk "was right where she needs to be" when he had last seen her during his jump.

But after his landing, he and his colleagues got concerned as they had not seen her parachute open.

"The main parachute wasn't deployed," Mr Salter said.

The HSE report said that there was "insufficient evidence as to why" and that it was "plausible that the sprung pilot chute got entangled", which could be seen from the GoPro footage.

A pilot chute is a smaller parachute used to pull out a skydiver's main chute.

Following a question from the jury, Sgt Liam Power said the malfunction rate of parachutes is about one in every 1,000.

Flight Sgt Dylan Bartle, who had supervised the jump on the ground, said it had been "just a horrible accident" and the entanglement of a pilot chute was "a rare thing to happen".

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