Parachute instructor died on 5,000ft dive off cliff platform
A record-breaking skydiver died when he went into an uncontrolled spin during a 5,000 foot jump from a notorious cliff face in Switzerland, an inquest has concluded.
Gary Harbird, aged 28 from Dunkeswell in East Devon, plummeted to his death in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, as he undertook a dive from a platform at the top of a near-vertical cliff.
A coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death after being told of how the experienced parachute instructor crashed into the cliff face then fell into trees on the steep slope below.
His helmet was torn off by the impact and he died of head injuries from the accident in January 2011, the inquest was told.
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Mr Harbird became Britain's youngest parachutist when he jumped at Dunkeswell less than a week after his 16th birthday, and holds the world record as the youngest qualified instructor.
Family members said he had devoted his life to the sport from the age of 16, making 8,000 parachute jumps and more than 400 base jumps.
After training at the Dunkeswell airfield near Honiton, he had been living and working as an instructor in the United States.
Coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland said: "It appears he went into a spin and opened his parachute.
"The helmet which may have protected him was knocked off in the fall.
"I am satisfied he went into an accelerated spin and collided with a cliff.
"He fell and became entangled in a tree and suffered fatal head injuries. I am satisfied he died instantaneously during this activity, which he was doing by his own volition."
The inquest at County Hall in Exeter was told he suffered severe head injuries in the fall on the morning of January 24 2011 from the High Ultimate platform at Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Fellow skydiver Christopher Peterson said in a police statement: "Gary was the first to jump and took his position on the platform.
"I tracked his jump and noticed he found himself in a dangerous situation and went into a spin. I took off and could see his parachute was already open, which was a bad sign. His parachute disappeared from view and did not appear again."
The police report concluded: "After jumping he went into an accelerated spin and in this dangerous position he activated and opened his parachute but collided with the cliffs."
His mother Alison Harbird said: "He devoted his life to sky diving and parachuting.
"He did not just jump off a cliff, he prepared himself very carefully.
"He knew the risks and was not reckless.
"You never expect to outlive your child and I don't think I'll ever get over that."
His sister Jenna Armitage said: "Skydiving and parachuting was his life. He had always wanted to be a skydiver and when we were little he used to put me in a harness and push me out of imaginary planes."