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Unconscious jumper hits house

A parachutist who slammed into a house believes he passed out on his way down because his leg straps were too tight, but his friend says he may have had vertigo and his wife says he avoids some rides at the local fair.

"He won't go on any spinny rides," said Soren Toft's wife Peggy.

Toft, of West Kelowna, jumped nearly 1,100 metres from a plane at the Vernon Airport as a 50th birthday present.

He lost consciousness as he glided down and struck an unoccupied house, bounced off the roof and fell to the ground.

Peggy Toft was on the ground videotaping the jump with their kids when she realized something was wrong.

She ran out of the airport area to look for her husband and found a witness who drove her four blocks to the house, she said.

A nurse who lived nearby sat by Toft as he lay on the grass, opening and closing his eyes.

"I'm telling him to stay conscious," Toft said. "I'm kissing him. His shoes are off but the parachute is still on him. I started taking the parachute off him and the nurse said, 'No, don't touch him.'"

The chute was still on the roof, wrapped around some power lines after the incident Monday.

Firefighters arrived and warned Peggy Toft about electrocution. Paramedics transported her husband to hospital, where doctors found large bruises on his legs where his harness was fastened.

"When I went up, the harness felt tight," Toft said Wednesday from his hospital room in Vernon. "When I jumped it felt tight. Then on my way down, suddenly my legs went numb and that was the end of that."

Toft said a doctor told him he didn't have enough blood circulation. Because he was excited and nervous as he flew through the air, he may have passed out because the blood didn't flow fast enough, Toft said.

"I'm doing OK. I've torn a lot of muscles and tendons in my legs and my legs are swollen up. I can move my toes. Apparently, I hyper-extended my legs. My knees are three times as big as normal."

Toft's chute had deployed but the strings were twisted. He adjusted his body in an attempt to straighten them out.

He said he couldn't remember anything after his legs went numb.

His nephew, who jumped just before him, reviewed the videotape and saw Toft appear to go limp.

He stopped following radio directions from instructor Bret Chalmers on the ground and drifted toward a residential area.

By then, Chalmers and another instructor at Okanagan Skydive had found Toft's helmet nearby. They confirmed it worked properly and spoke to police.

Chalmers gave Peggy Toft hug before she left. He started co- ordinating the accident and witness reports by phone.

"We got there as soon as we could," he said.

Chalmers later visited the hospital and spoke to Toft's 16-year-old daughter. She told him her dad had cuts and bruises but no broken bones.

Toft's friend told a staff member at the skydiving school that Toft may have had vertigo. Peggy Toft said her husband has no more vertigo than an average person at the Armstrong Fair, where he avoids spinny rides.

Chalmers said the school has been teaching people to make solo jumps for years, and some students have been in their 80s. He said staff tighten the leg straps the same for everyone and that he's never heard of anyone losing consciousness because they're too tight.

"We go over the tightness when they put them on. It's not an issue with anyone else passing out. If he would have (complained), we wouldn't have changed them. We need to make sure he's not going to fall out of the equipment."

Toft said he has feeling in his legs, but can't move them. An occupational therapist would be working with him, he said.

Peggy Toft is grateful that her husband survived what could have been a tragedy.

"It's completely amazing he's alive with only those leg injuries." (Kelowna Daily Courier)

The Canadian Press

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