In 2009, Jarrett Martin, a private pilot, senior rigger, and PRO-rated skydiver with about 2,800 jumps, had a ground-launching accident that left him with a broken back, a torn aorta, damaged lungs and kidneys, and paralysed from the chest down.
Miraculously within six months he was jumping again, and a few weeks ago Jarret realized his first base jump.
He now works for Skydive Dubai as a parachute rigger.
I have almost 4000 skydives under my belt.
When an accident happens it’s usually not just one factor that is responsible, it’s often a culmination of things. I was a little bit careless, but I was also trying something that’s not been done before.
I’ve only broken one bone in my body and that’s my back. Some people have warning accidents, a broken leg from a bad landing or something – but I’d always been quite fortunate before.
I was working in Hawaii at a skydive facility in 2009, and after work one day me and my friends hiked up a mountain to do some extreme paragliding. When I launched off the hill, I was trying to fly my parachute away from the mountain, release that parachute intentionally into a secondary parachute…but the harness that I had rigged up had failed. My parachute collapsed and I fell 200ft back on the mountainside.
Did I think I was going to die there and then? Well, I was lying there for three hours before I got to the hospital. My friends had to hike all the way back down the cliff to reach me and that took a couple of hours. They had seen it all happen, so naturally they walked that way expecting to find a dead body.
I was in the ICU in critical condition for almost a month. The big thing was the aorta – that had split so the surgery was pretty crazy. The doctor said after I came to, “I would have bet a year’s salary that you would have been dead by the time we reached the hospital”. Apparently the aorta procedure has a 50/50 chance of surviving.
When I was told I would never walk again, it was pretty devastating. There were periods when I thought ‘I’m very young, and before I had a chance to live a good life this has been taken away from me. It was disturbing, but I thought I could either waste away or still do something pretty cool.
On the road to recovery, they basically teach you how to live again. It’s a six week intensive course where they help you with everything from how to use the restroom, to how to get into bed and how to use a car. It’s pretty intense.
Some people would maybe never get over an accident like this, and could even be afraid of it. They sit in their house and waste away in front of the television. But I feel I have this second opportunity to live my life enjoy myself, and I’m forever grateful of that.
I was skydiving again six months after my accident, as soon as I’d healed. It was a tandem with my Dad back at home, and I was so nervous. Three months after that I was doing solo jumps again.
Should I do something a bit more tame? Maybe. But I’ve been skydiving for so long, really it’s the only thing that I know. And I think there’s a certain beauty to that, just doing things that you love to do and not letting anything stop that. And it’s not super unique or anything. You hear about race drivers having horrifying accidents and then carrying on with their sport, this is really no different.
My family understand. I come from a generation of skydiver’s, I’m third generation – so extreme things like this are in my blood. They’re very supportive and always have been.
Everyone who does their first dive is nervous, but after your 20th you feel OK. After a thousand or two thousand it’s just like any other sport where you just try and get more proficient.
When everyone was deciding what college they wanted to go to, all I wanted to do was Skydive. I was an instructor at the time and I’d always harboured a desire to go to Dubai. Back then Skydive Dubai didn’t exist, so I went to Hawaii and that’s where I got hurt. After that I thought, ‘they’ll never hire me now’, but I came at the end of last year for a competition and they offered me a job. It truly was a dream come true, and here I am. I come from a small town with less than 1000 people, and I’ve never seen an area like this. I wake up every day and still find it amazing.
Because of my accident I take my job at Skydive Dubai incredibly seriously. While the thing I got hurt doing had never been done before, there was a mistake in design, so whenever I look at the design of a parachute I absolutely know what to look for.
It’s a huge responsibility, and we have a lot of locals who have a lot of power coming in here. But we maintain everyone’s equipment exactly the same, naturally. Adhering to the highest attention to detail possible.
It is kind of a weird, full circle thing. You get hurt doing something, but now you’re the master at it and you do it because you like to do it and it’s all you know.
I plan to push the envelope of what I can do, pretty soon I’m during an endurance record in the indoor wind tunnel, going for the longest flight for a disabled person. I’m going to start the mark at 60 minutes of freefall, so that’ll be pretty crazy.