An army sergeant tried to murder his wife by sabotaging her parachute before she jumped 4000ft out of a plane, in a bid to get £120,000 (NZ$222,000) from insurance after starting an affair, a court heard today.
Emile Cilliers, 37, of Aldershot, Hampshire had days earlier allegedly damaged a gas fitting in the home he shared with his wife Victoria Cilliers, 40, in an attempt to kill her after meeting Stefanie Goller on dating app Tinder, according to the Daily Mail.
Winchester Crown Court heard that in response to that, Victoria jokingly asked her husband: "Are you trying to kill me?"
After the gas incident, he allegedly suggested that his wife - an experienced parachutist and instructor - go parachuting the next weekend.
But when Victoria went to jump from the Cessna Caravan light aircraft, both her main and reserve parachutes failed and she spun helplessly to the ground over Netheravon airfield on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.
Victoria survived the 4000ft fall but was seriously injured - being left with broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a broken leg and spinal injuries - and spent three weeks in hospital.
Witnesses thought she had died and realised immediately that something was very wrong with her reserve parachute.
The court heard two vital pieces of equipment - strips of material known as slinks which connect the harness to the parachute - were missing and without these the kit would fail.
A police investigation widened and officers then discovered a gas valve fitting in a kitchen cupboard near the cooker at their home had been deliberately damaged.
The jury was told Cilliers, who serves with the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, had started an affair with Goller after meeting her on Tinder.
In Whatsapp messages to her, he lied that Victoria, a physiotherapist who had previously served as an officer in the British Army, had given birth to a child that was not his but the result of an affair, the court was told.
The jury also heard that Cilliers was involved in a sexual relationship with his ex-wife Carly Cilliers.
South African-born Cilliers, who in 2015 had debts of around £22,000 (NZ$40,700), allegedly believed he would receive £120,000 (NZ$222,100) from an insurance policy in the event of his current wife's death.
But, in December 2014, Victoria had changed her will, cutting her husband out, as she "did not have faith Cilliers would be able to manage the money himself" - something he was "unlikely" to have known about, the court was told.
Michael Bowes QC, prosecuting, said: "On April 5, 2015, Victoria, known as Vicky, a highly experienced parachutist and parachute instructor was involved in a near fatal parachuting fail at the Army Parachute Association Camp in Netheravon, Wiltshire.
"She jumped out of the plane at 4,000ft, her main parachute and reserve parachute failed causing her to spiral to the ground.
"Those attending the scene expected to find her dead. Although she was badly injured, almost miraculously she survived the fall.
"Those at the scene immediately realised that something was seriously wrong with her reserve parachute. Two vital pieces of equipment which fasten the parachute to the parachutist's harness were missing.
"Their absence meant the reserve parachute would fail and send her spinning to the ground.
"The circumstances were such that police began criminal investigations into the possibility that Emile Cilliers had attempted to murder Victoria.
"He deliberately removed vital pieces of equipment intending that she should be killed when the reserve parachute inevitably failed.
"Subsequently the police investigation was widened to include a gas leak at Emile and Victoria's home on March 28 to 29, 2015 a few days before.
"It was discovered that Emile Cilliers had deliberately caused a gas leak at the house before he left the house to stay elsewhere."
The court heard Cilliers, who married Victoria in South Africa in 2011, was a competent skydiver, was trained to pack main parachutes and started a course on how to pack reserve parachutes but did not complete it.
Mr Bowes added: "On March 30, 2015, Emile attempted to kill Victoria by means of a deliberate gas leak.
"Within hours of that failed attempt, despite his complete disinterest in Victoria, he suggested that she might like to go parachuting the following weekend.
"The prosecution case is he had by now decided to get rid of her permanently."
In messages read out in court between Cilliers and Goller, who he had been having a relationship with since November 2014, he lied that he moved out of the home he shared with Victoria in Amesbury, Wiltshire.
In one of many messages to Goller from Cilliers, he said: "I do not want anything to jeopardise us."
He also said: "I am not going to lose you over this, you have no idea how much you mean to me."
Mr Bowes added: "Text messages between Carly Cilliers, his ex-wife, and Emile Cilliers show it is quite apparent that (they) are still continuing a sexual relationship.
"It is not a criminal offence but in terms of attitude towards Victoria and how much he cared about her in relation [to suggesting] a parachute jump this is significant."
Days before Victoria's near fatal parachute jump, she discovered a gas leak in the couple's home.
The court heard Cilliers left the family home and drove to Army barracks in Surrey, telling Victoria he would avoid traffic the next morning.
But the following morning on March 30, Victoria contacted her husband and told him she smelled gas in the kitchen.
She discovered it was coming from a gas valve fitting in a kitchen cupboard next to the cooker.
Victoria, in a message to her husband read out in court, said: 'Did you alter the gas lever into the cooker this am [sic] and there is dry blood around the lever.'
He replied: "That is weird. Is the stove working?"
She then answered: "No, I did not want to try. I've opened back door."
The court also heard Victoria jokingly asked her husband "Are you trying to kill me?"
Mr Bowes QC, reading from messages, said: "[Cilliers] says 'Hey you cannot be serious about the comment you made, you have been saying that a lot recently. Why?'
"The comment was, although she was joking, was 'are you trying to kill me?'
"She says 'I read in a mag recently, brought it to the front of my mind. True life stories - my husband tried to kill me'.
"He said 'seriously?' and she said 'was only making a joke because of the blood on the handle, did not realise I was saying it a lot.''
Mr Bowes said that Victoria was a qualified free fall instructor and experienced parachutist who had completed 2,600 jumps without incident and previously had been an instructor at Netheravon.
He said that Cilliers and his wife went to Netheravon on Easter Saturday, April 4 2015, to renew their membership of the Army Parachute Association and to prepare for Victoria's jump.
He explained that Victoria needed to use hire equipment because her own parachute was away to be inspected.
He said the defendant collected a parachute for his wife and during the afternoon took it into the men's toilets at the base, which is when the prosecution claim he tampered with it.
Mr Bowes said: "It's heavy, it's bulky, there is absolutely no reason to take it in there at all."
He continued: "The weather was so poor that afternoon that Victoria couldn't jump, the cloud base was too low.
"Now, of course, there was a dilemma, what was he going to do with the rig because having tampered with it he had a problem, he couldn't put it back in the store."
Mr Bowes said Cilliers then arranged to keep it overnight in his wife's locker against normal procedures at the base where its parachutes were always returned to the kit room overnight.
He said Victoria returned alone the following day and when the weather cleared in the afternoon, she was able to do a "hop and pop" jump from the low altitude of 4,000ft where the parachute is deployed immediately on leaving the aircraft.
Mr Bowes said that, out of character, Cilliers kept a track on the weather forecast for his wife's jump that afternoon.
He said: "He is really, really, keen that she jumps that afternoon, a woman who by now he couldn't care less for any more, the woman he wanted to abandon. Suddenly he is so concerned she has a good time parachuting that afternoon."
Describing the "near-fatal" jump, Mr Bowes said: "She exited the plane without any difficulty and pulled the parachute straight away.
"It seems she realised something wasn't right in how the parachute was deployed so she cut away the main so (as) to let the main canopy go.
"She then pulled the release mechanism to activate the reserve parachute, she knew something was wrong with the reserve because it went into a spin. Then everything went black."
He said witnesses saw the "mess of the main parachute" as it collapsed in on itself and then saw Victoria spiral and lose altitude quickly.
He said those on the ground rushed to where she landed, thinking that she would have died, but instead found her alive, drifting in and out of consciousness.
Mr Bowes said she was thought to have survived because of her small size and because she "landed in a ploughed field and was very small and very light".
He said the reserve parachute was immediately found to be faulty. He said that two slinks, which attach the lines of the canopy to the rest of the rigging, were missing from one side of the parachute.
He said that experts at the airfield had never seen such an entangled parachute and believed it could only be in that state if it had been tampered with.
Mr Bowes said the British Parachute Association said there had never been an accident caused by slinks breaking and added: "To the board's knowledge there has never been an incident of main and reserve parachutes failing to operate in many millions of jumps."
Mr Bowes said that in messages with Goller, Cilliers suggests the chief rigger Alan Westley, who previously inspected the parachute, might be to blame for the faulty parachute.
He also discussed with Goller a fake theory that Victoria had an affair with Mr Westley and could have been the "real father" of his child.
Mr Bowes said: "Emile Cilliers had the opportunity to tamper with the parachute and he had the expertise to do so having trained as a packer and having undergone training on the checking of parachute reserve equipment.
"There is no evidence that anyone at Netheravon or anywhere else wished her any harm with the exception of Emile Cilliers and he had already tried to kill her a few days before with the deliberate gas leak."
Cilliers, who has served with the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineer regiments since 2005, denies two counts of attempted murder and criminal damage reckless as to whether it endangered life.
The trial, which is expected to last five weeks, was adjourned until Thursday (local time).