The Army sergeant's wife who spiralled to the ground after he allegedly sabotaged her parachute on a 4,000ft jump is an "absolutely brilliant" skydiver who has never had a safety incident before, a court heard today.
Emile Cilliers, 37, is accused of tampering with his wife Victoria's parachute in a bid to kill her after a failed murder attempt days earlier when he turned on a gas valve to try to cause an explosion at their home.
Cilliers allegedly removed two "slinks" - soft links which connect a parachute to the jumper's harness - before his wife jumped from a plane at Netheravon, on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, in April 2015.
And Winchester Crown Court heard that Mrs Cilliers only survived her husband's attempt to sabotage her parachute through luck and a single attached line that made her fall from "survivable".
A jury has been told he believed he would pocket £120,000 (NZ$221,330) life insurance to pay off his debts.
It is alleged he was desperate to start a new life with his secret lover Stefanie Goller, who he met on dating site Tinder and was also sleeping with his ex-wife Carly Cilliers, 38.
Mrs Cilliers, 40, a physiotherapist and former British Army officer, was a trained, "top notch" freefall instructor who had completed around 2,600 jumps.
But after jumping from the plane, both her main parachute and reserve parachute failed. Miraculously she survived the fall, landing in a ploughed field, but suffered a broken pelvis, ribs and fractured her vertebra.
Mark Bayada, chief instructor within the Army Parachute Association at the airfield camp in Netheravon, who is one of the longest serving chief instructors in the country, told Winchester Crown Court today: 'She is a highly competent parachutist.
"She is a qualified accelerated freefall instructor which is the hardest qualification to obtain.
"She is in the top per cent of competency in the country. She is absolutely brilliant as an instructor. Even while pregnant she continued doing ground basic instructing.
"She has no recorded safety incident in her profile and is top notch."
He described Mrs Cilliers as a "quiet, unassuming, intelligent" woman who "just got on with it".
The two vital pieces of equipment missing from Mrs Cilliers' parachute would be "impossible to have come off by mistake".
Mr Bayada said: "The slinks are very simple devices to allow us to connect the lines (of the parachute) to the risers (a strip of webbing joining the parachute harness to the lines) .
"Before this, it was metal links then these came out. They are much more user-friendly and much stronger than metal links and once they are on, they do not come off."
Mr Bayada, who served as part of the Military Parachute Regiment and has completed some 5,000 jumps, said: "It does not matter how hard you pull the slink, it actually tightens the loop around the tab because it is pulling on itself so it absolutely cannot come undone."
He added: "It is critical to check the slinks because if the parachute is not connected to the harness it will not save your life."
He told the court Netheravon has three aircraft for skydives and completes about 25,000 individual jumps per year which range from 13,000-15,000ft to a minimum jump of 3,000ft depending on the weather.
The size and type of parachute a jumper will be able to use for a jump is dependent on a sky diver's weight and experience.
The court heard Mrs Cilliers was allowed to use a parachute - a 149 Safire - that was reserved for only the most experienced of jumpers at Netheravon.
In a video played to the court, Mr Bayada could be seen explaining different parts of a parachute and what can go wrong.
In one of the videos, when discussing slinks, he said the way the equipment is tied to the lines 'makes it almost impossible that [the slinks] can come off by mistake'.
Mrs Cilliers only survived because a single line of strapping on the parachute was still attached to her harness, the court was told this afternoon.
Mark Bayada, a chief instructor with the Army Parachute Association at Netheravon, said it was "luck" that Mrs Cilliers had survived the jump.
She lived, he said, thanks to a combination of a freshly ploughed field, her light weight and because one parachute line on the right side was still attached to her harness.
He said: "There was one line attached. That was enough to make it a survivable landing. Without that, it would have been a fatal accident."
Mr Bayada was working at the base on Salisbury Plain on April 5, 2015, when both of Mrs Cilliers' parachutes failed and she spun to the ground.
Her husband Emile Cilliers, 37, who serves with the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, is accused of tampering with her parachute before her "hop and pop" jump - a type of skydive which is normally completed at around 4,000ft high.
He allegedly did so after a failed murder attempt a few days earlier when he damaged a gas valve at their marital home in Amesbury, Wilts, in an attempt to cause an explosion after starting an affair with Stefanie Goller, who he met on dating site Tinder.
The jury has been told Cilliers, who had around £22,000 (NZ$34,000)of debts, believed he would receive £120,000 (NZ$221,330) life insurance as a result of Mrs Cillier's death.
Winchester Crown Court heard Mr Bayada was called by a colleague to come to the 'drop zone control room,' where a member of staff can overlook jumpers coming in to land at Netheravon.
He said: "I was told very little. The drop zone control was Justin Everitt and he indicated there had been a malfunction but his voice was gone, almost to the point of a bit of panic in his voice.
"He was not able to talk in full and tell me what happened, which is very unusual for him. I have known him a long time and never had that before.
"I knew straight away it was something out of the ordinary. He said something like 'there has been a malfunction, it is serious. Someone has been killed'."
The court heard Mr Bayada rushed out to where the parachutist had fallen with another colleague, who got to 40 year old Mrs Cilliers first and yelled "she's not dead".
Mr Bayada then drove back to the base to find doctors and medically-trained club members.
He added: "She was still in situ. She was lying still when we went back to the scene. With the doctors there were enough people doing first aid that I did not feel I needed to get stuck in.
"Vicky was lying on her back and the reserve (parachute) was on the left hand side."
The reserve parachute was only moved to shield Mrs Cilliers from debris as the air ambulance landed nearby.
Mr Bayaba said: "While she was being treated I noticed the suspension lines on the reserve were in a tight ball.
"I noticed the reserve lines were knotted and bundled up in a fairly tight knot. The first time I saw that I knew it was strange as I had never seen that before.
"I was trying to work out what might have gone wrong because reserve parachutes just do not malfunction.
"It alarmed me when I saw the lines knotted that way.
"As Vicky was moved onto the stretcher or the stretcher was moved with Vicky on it, we had a look underneath to see nothing was getting caught and that is the first time I saw the reserve did not have anything attached to it.
"Two risers did not have attachments [slinks]. Both slinks on the same side, Vicky's right hand side, were not there.
"The effect of that is a catastrophic failure of the reserve.
"'The left hand side was flying normally and attached normally but on the right hand side the main body was flying about.
"There was one line attached [from the parachute to the harness]. That was enough to make it a survivable landing. Without that, it would have been a fatal accident.
"Luck comes into her survival. She was very light, she landed on a freshly ploughed field which was exceptionally soft. Both those factors were in her favour."
He added: "There was nothing to indicate any error on Vicky's part.
"She left the plane at the correct altitude, she opened the parachute at the correct altitude.
"She was seen to have a malfunction and it was seen by witnesses that she dealt with that malfunction and then operated the reserve.
"What happened afterwards, there was nothing she could have done about that."
The court heard all the parachuting kit Mrs Cilliers used was collected and stored in a locked room to be later investigated.
When the main parachute and reserve were examined, there were no signs of damage to the main or reserve parachute apart from the missing slinks.
A search for the missing slinks was carried out the following day on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, by several members of the club but nothing was found.
The jury were shown two videos of two people tampering with parachutes.
In one video, it took two minutes and 25 seconds for the reserve parachute to be made 'lethal' by removing a slink and detaching another.
And it took a total of five minutes and 15 seconds to tamper with both the reserve and main parachute, with a line on the main pulled around the bag - which contains the parachute - before closing it up.
A second video showed a reserve and main parachute tampered with in four minutes and five seconds.
Commenting on the videos, Mr Bayada said: 'Both those in the videos are closed up looking like every other rig [which a skydiver carries on their back carrying both parachutes] does on the flight plan.'
The jury was shown a video of Mr Bayada searching the lines of the parachute for the missing slinks and the court heard he searched the area of the jump for the missing parts.
He said: "Knowing the slinks as being such a strong piece of equipment, had the shock been so much to break two slinks I would expect to have seen some damage to other pieces of equipment.
"What I thought was most unusual was that not only was there no damage but actually there was no visible sign that either the risers or lines had been under load."
He explained that Mrs Cilliers had made a "sub terminal jump" which meant that she had not reached full speed - for which a figure was not given to the court - because of the short period of free fall during the low 4,000ft jump.
He said this combined with Mrs Cilliers's light weight would have reduced the impact on the parachute of the jump.
He said: "I would not expect gear failure for such a light person. I began to wonder if the slinks had ever been there at all."
Just days before Mrs Cilliers's near-fatal fall, Cilliers is alleged to have damaged a gas valve fitting in a kitchen cupboard near the cooker in a bid to create an explosion at the home he shared with Mrs Cilliers, in Amesbury, Wiltshire.
But Mrs Cilliers smelt the gas leak, aired the kitchen and when Cilliers, who serves with the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, returned home they called an engineer.
Cilliers, who is currently living in army barracks in Aldershot, Hampshire, denies two counts of attempted murder and criminal damage as to recklessly endanger life.
The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.