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Skydiving legend Thomas Noonan III was attempting to break the Guinness World Record with his friend Jim Wiggington by doing the highest tandem skydive.
The incident happened on Oct. 16 and took place at 41,000 feet over Memphis, Tennessee. The two highly experienced jumpers were accompanied by two other solo jumpers, a videographer, a jumpmaster, an oxygen manager, and the pilot as they entered the plane to break the record.
“The first two guys exited,” Jim said. “Between Tom and myself and the gear we wore, we were about 500 pounds. We had to use our arms and scoot our legs to move. At 41,000 feet, what would be comparatively easy on the ground is really difficult in the air. We got about halfway, and he was struggling. I made it to the door. I was hanging out the door.”
The guys said that right before they were about to jump, the oxygen system that must be used to stay alive at such a high altitude, malfunctioned, and everyone on the plane began to experience hypoxia (lack of oxygen).
Thomas was the first to lose consciousness, along with the videographer who kept going in and out of consciousness. Jim briefly lost consciousness but soon regained his awareness and along with everyone else in the plane….except Thomas.
They pulled him back into the plane and started doing CPR on Thomas until the plane landed and where they continued to do it there. He was then transported to a nearby hospital where he was, unfortunately, pronounced dead on arrival.
According to authorities, the cause of death is still unknown but an investigation has been launched into the matter.
The crew did several test runs at 28,000 feet and 15,000 feet days before the big day to test their equipment and everything worked fine. It was just a very unfortunate circumstance that things went wrong.
“We have done a number of high-altitude jumps, but things change substantially the higher you go,” Jim said. “So what you would do at 30,000 feet is not what you would do at 35, and 35 is not what you would do at 40. And 41,000 feet is sort of the limit physiologically of what you could do without wearing a pressurized suit. So we were already tempting pressure.”
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Thomas and his friends and family. He was a true legend with over 10,000 jumps in his 25 years of skydiving and training others to skydive.