Skydive hero conquers fears

By Sandra Conchie

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David Benfell has recovered from a horrific skydiving accident. Photo/George Novak
David Benfell has recovered from a horrific skydiving accident. Photo/George Novak

FORMER paratrooper and British Red Devils member David Benfell is used to confronting his fears.

Having served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, he surprised his friends and family by announcing he was going to do another skydive - five years after a horrific crash landing that left him with major injuries and a prognosis he may never walk again.

The crash landing occurred during his 235th free-fall jump while a member of the Parachute Regiment's Red Devils display team near Devon, England, in July 2009.

The accident resulted in a serious back injury, which ended the 35-year-old's military career. He was warned he may never walk again, despite nine hours of surgery by a top British surgeon.

Mr Benfell, who lives in Brookfield, said: "There were a lot of contributing factors to my accident, including the weather conditions, but at the end of the day I came in very low and fast and hit the ground with a big crunch.

"I shattered my back in two places and broke all the ribs in my left side, and couldn't move or feel my legs for quite a while. I was paralysed from the waist down for months," he said.

But the gutsy Kiwi was determined to beat the odds and spent the next 18 months learning to walk again. Last month he took his first free-fall jump, at Parakai, since the crash.

Mr Benfell has physical scars and four titanium screws in the middle of his lower back, and walks with a limp as constant reminders of his freak accident.

Before becoming a Red Devil, he was a member of the British Parachute Regiment from 2003, saw active duty in Iraq, did two tours of Afghanistan and served in Northern Ireland.

Between 1997 and 2001, he was in the NZ Army's Infantry Regiment before heading overseas and deciding to join the British Army and training to be a paratrooper.

Mr Benfell said he had an amazing surgeon after the accident and he also credited his recovery to the help of the British Army, which supported him through his rehabilitation, and two British charities - Help for Heroes and On Course Foundation.

"I consider myself so lucky to be even walking again," he said.

Following a period of rehabilitation in the UK, he returned to Tauranga. He now co-edits New Zealand Outdoor Hunting magazine and is a keen hunter. Since the accident, he has also learned to dive and play golf.

Mr Benfell said that when he told his parents and close friends of his plans to go skydiving again they knew not to try to dissuade him.

"I never dreamed I would be able to jump again and when I stood at the door of the plane I thought to myself 'what the hell are you doing?'. The first 10 seconds of the jump was pretty emotional and I was freaking out. Memories of my accident came flooding back, but I managed to push through my fears and when I landed safely I was so relieved and elated," he said.

Mr Benfell said one jump soon turned into five within two days and he hasn't looked back. "I have regained my confidence and conquered my fear," he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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