Injured Pilot: Flight a Bad Idea
Justin Schilling said that the flight that left him stranded in a tree with a broken leg should never have happened.
Schilling took his powered parachute up for its maiden voyage Feb. 19 in a field near Cameron. High winds slammed his aircraft into a sweetgum tree, 50 feet in the air.
Schilling, a retired U.S. Army Golden Knight with more than 8,500 free-fall parachute jumps, said that he was careless to take the craft up on such a windy day.
"The flight shouldn't have happened," he said. "Of all the things that happened that day, God was in control of it all."
Schilling, who is 50 (not 58 that was originally reported by emergency responders), said the accident was an embarrassment and that his zeal to take advantage of a rare day off -- he's been working at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland -- got the best of him.
"It was a trying to cram a lot of life in a short time," he said.
The flight took place at a field near the intersection of N.C. 24-27 and Cranes Creek Road. Tom Loving, the owner of the hay and soybean field, allows it to be used for amateur aeronautics.
"Tom Loving was very gracious," Shilling said. "I embarrassed him, too. I need to make it up to him."
Schilling piloted the aircraft -- which pretty much looks like a go-cart with a fan on the back and a parachute attached -- above the tops of the surrounding trees, only to find that the wind was much stronger at altitude.
Once in the air, Schilling felt powerful winds blow the aircraft sideways. He said he tried to make a hard left turn, to slice through a crosswind. He saw that he was headed for a tree in the middle of the field.
"I never anticipated that much wind above the tree line," he said.
Schilling tried turning with the wind, he said, thinking that he could slow down and let the craft float gently to the ground. However, he had been warned that the throttle stuck -- and sure, enough, it did.
"I couldn't bring it back to the surface," he said.
Schilling is a retired member of the Army Parachute Team known as the Golden Knights. He said that he has done more than 8,500 free-fall jumps and a couple hundred static line jumps -- all without suffering an injury.
Using a ladder truck, firefighters from Cameron and Southern Pines helped extract Schilling from the vehicle, where it was wedged in a fork of the tree. A helicopter took him to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He has since been released.
Shilling said that if he had it to do over again, he would not have tried to fly that day.
"I guess it would have been fine if I had just been patient," he said. "I crushed my leg and my pride all at once."
Matthew Moriarty can be reached at 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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