Skydiving instructor, 41, commits suicide by detaching himself from student mid-air during mile-high jump
Police said interviews with other skydivers led them to believe it wasn't a mistake and concluded that Bickford, 41, intentionally loosened his harness midair to end his life.
A skydiving instructor is believed to have committed suicide when he mysteriously became separated from his student during a tandem jump in September. 41-year-old Brett Bickford of Rochester, New Hampshire, allegedly deliberately loosened his harness mid-air while sharing a parachute with a student, Maine State Police said. While search crews were able to locate Bickford's body after the incident in Lebanon, Maine, the student survived the horrifying ordeal, Daily Mail reports.
In a statement to NBC, police said: "State Police interviews with other skydivers and industry officials concluded that no experienced skydiver would loosen a parachute harness by mistake. Investigators concluded that Bickford loosened his harness in midair and it was an intentional act."
Although it's unclear what led to the apparent suicide, Bickford's family members and Skydive New England officials have been notified of the investigation's conclusion, authorities said. At around 2 pm on September, Bickford and his student jumped near Skydive New England in Lebanon. While the student landed safely, he was concerned he was the only one with the parachute in the landing and so he immediately alerted Maine State Police about the incident.
A skydiving instructor in Vermont, Ryan Scutt, said instructors and students both wear harnesses on jumps, although the main parachute and a backup in the harness is attached to the instructor. Speaking to the Global Dispatch at the time, Scutt said that it would be nearly impossible for the instructor and student to become detached accidentally as they are usually connected to each other with four metal buckles.
“The idea of the instructor not being in the harness anymore or falling out is essentially unheard of,” he said, and the pair “can’t become disconnected once they are connected.”
A search team found Bickford's body about 750 feet from the Lebanon Airport runway, Cpl John MacDonald, the spokesman for the Maine Warden Service, said at the time. Investigators determined the instructor and student became detached about a mile above the ground and that the former didn't have a backup parachute, according to Steve McCausland, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. The freefall was "uneventful", a Skydive New England spokesperson said in September, adding that the only incident was that the instructor went missing.
Skydive New England has experienced numerous incidents over the past couple of years with skydivers getting injured and one person dying in 2002, according to News Center Maine. However, the incidents are small in comparison to the 20,000 skydives the company completes in a season, a spokesperson clarified. That said, authorities are still trying to figure out how the skydivers became separated in the first place as the investigation continues.