Skydiving instructor, Dave Hartsock is a hero. However he has paid dearly for his act of courage that saved another’s life.
In 2009, 54-year-old Shirley Dygert of Teague, Texas decided that she wanted to jump out of an airplane.
For her birthday that year, she treated herself to a tandem sky dive. Dave Hartsock was her instructor for the day.
As is the normal procedure for a tandem jump, Dygert was strapped to Hartsock and at altitude of 13,000 they leapt from the plane. What happened next would change both their lives forever.
At first the skydive was taking place just like any other routine dive. Dygert was enjoying an experience of a lifetime as the two fell in free-fall.
However, when Hartsock pulled the cord to release the parachute, it failed by not opening properly. Tumbling rapidly to the ground, the pair spiralled out of control with the chute flapping uselessly.
Dave grasped for the cord to expel the shoot but it was trapped between their bodies. As they plummeted, spinning to the ground, the centrifugal force made the cord impossible to reach.
“Our bodies were forced together so tight I couldn’t get anywhere near it,” he told CBS News. “Shirley asked me what was happening and I said ‘hold on, we’re in big trouble’.”
Hartsock was left with no choice but to open the reserve chute without releasing the first one. The chute instantly tangled and they continued to plunge, spinning horizontally to the ground.
Speaking soon after the incident, Dygert explains how at this point, she fully believed it was over for them. “And I thought, huh, this is how I’m going to die,” she said. “I thought God please help us, God please help Dave and we just continued to spiral.”
At 40 mph and 500 feet from the ground, Hartsock did what can only be described as the ultimate sacrifice.
Just before crashing to the ground, he told Shirley to lift up her feet. He then saved her life by pulling down the control toggles to rotate their position, placing his body beneath hers to act as a cushion on impact.
“I can’t hardly believe it,” Dygert said. “He broke my fall.”
Hartsock, did manage to survive the accident, however he is now paralysed from the neck down with just a little movement in his right arm.
“People keep telling me that it was a heroic thing to do,” Hartsock said.
“In my opinion it was just the right thing to do. I mean, I was the one who was completely responsible for her safety. What other choices were there?”
“You hear heroes say that, don’t you?” Dygert said. “It’s just because that’s the kind of person they are.”
Anyone would expect Hartsock to be extremely bitter about what happened. Such feelings would be completely justified, however it seems even with his life changed so dramatically, his spirits have remained high.
When Dygert came to visit him in the hospital to cheer him up, it turned out the other way around. Hartsock had her laughing, and even invited her skydiving again.
“We’re accident-proof now, baby. I mean what are the odds of something like that happening twice like that?”
Mrs Dygert said: “People use the word hero liberally these days but Dave is a hero in the truest sense. Without him I would not be here to see my grandkids grow up.”
[CBS News reported at the time that a donation fund to help cover Dave’s medical bills reached $40,000.]
Update: A petition and fund raising effort also took place at the end of 2014. Supporters of Dave Hartsock’s cause have been trying to gain the attention of Ellen DeGeneres in an attempt to get Dave on the show. (See video)