Miracle over Wisconsin
Miracle over Wisconsin, 20 inches (51 cm) by 24 inches (61 cm) acrylic on canvas, completed by Everard Cunion in March 2022
Feel free to create a print of it for your own non-commercial use.
This isn’t really happening. It’s a joke, right? My hip smashes into Matt’s plane, below the back window, and I notice a hand pinned between the two planes. It’s mine. That’s not good. Our door, hundreds of pounds of aluminum, slams down just as the fuel from the detached wing of the lead plane ignites. Everything flashes orange, and heat explodes across my body, through my jumpsuit, helmet and gloves.
— Sarah Perrine, 31, who took up skydiving after a divorce
In November 2013 two light aircraft of Skydive Superior collided at 12,000 ft over north-west Wisconsin, at one end of Lake Superior. All nine parachutists aboard survived, as did the two pilots. The skydivers were all instructors or coaches up for a ‘sunset load.’ When they were getting ready to jump, the two aircraft collided. The right wing of one aircraft broke off, the fuel contained in its tank immediately spilling and igniting, the separated wing being quickly engulfed in fire from root to tip.
Barry Sinnex, 54, and Daniel Chandler, 32, having escaped the conflagration, were both in free fall and they dived after the flaming wreck, James Bond fashion, to help rescue its pilot…
Matt’s still in his plane, which is on fire and spiralling toward the ground at 230 kilometres an hour. I chase the wreck, hitting 336 kilometres an hour. I keep hoping he’ll come hurtling out, alive, and I can help him make it to the ground. […] Just as I catch up to Matt’s plane, the left wing falls off, a wall of flames spinning up and barely missing me as I dodge. The fuselage turns into a torpedo, launching toward the ground at 483 kilometres an hour.
— Daniel Chandler
In my painting, which is likely not completely accurate because of the limited visual info available to me, I have depicted Chandler falling backwards in acknowledgement of his position when the collision happened — in front of the strut, facing aft.
On with the narrative…
Matt Fandler, 23, pilot of the aircraft that broke into pieces, had undergone only two training parachute jumps.
Instantly, confusion sets in. What do I need to do? Level the airplane. I grab the yoke and pull back as hard as I can. No response. I need to get out. I unbuckle my seatbelt and turn to face a jagged hole where the door ripped off with the wing. I take a step and fling myself from the plane.
— Matt Fandler
All parachutes opened correctly, the skydivers and the pilot of the abandoned aircraft landing safely. Blake Wedan, 27, pilot of the Cessna 185, found his flight controls to be still working and he landed the extensively damaged airplane back on the airfield. Matt Fandler, the pilot who escaped by bailing out of his burning and broken aircraft with an emergency parachute, sustained cuts to his face from shards of Plexiglas that flew at him when the Cessna’s windshield shattered during the collision. Additional cuts on his hands required 25 stitches. Daniel Chandler sustained a cracked rib and a broken ankle.
It doesn’t seem possible to be in a mid-air crash and have everybody come out of it alive. It’s not a miracle that some of us survived, but it is a miracle that everybody survived.
— Skydive Superior instructor Mike Robinson, 65
All the skydivers resumed parachuting and the pilots carried on flying shortly afterwards, despite Skydive Superior being fresh out of airplanes.
I used helmet camera video of the actual event as my main source. See under External links later on this page for the compiled video on YouTube.
- Chad Ebling
- Amy Olson
- Mike Robinson
- John Rodorigo
- Trish Roy.
However, the video uploaded to YouTube is of low resolution and inevitably shaky, so I employed additional resources to improve the detail.
To obtain a tolerably accurate rendition of the Cessna 185, I used a screenshot from Microsoft Flight Simulator. Its angle approximates that at one point in video taken by one of the skydivers.
To clarify the lighting of the Cessna 185 from the burning wing of the other airplane (a slightly smaller Cessna 182) I took this photo of my Airfix 1/72nd scale Cessna O-1 Bird Dog. The model is four inches (11 cm) long. It is old and its starboard wheel leg is broken off. (I have no idea how to repair it.) I used a desk lamp about half a metre away from the model. A book holds the left wing tip on the desk to obtain the bank angle, although I did not get it exactly right. I held a piece of black paper behind the model to approximate the light from the dusk sky. I rotated the whole photo to place it in an inverted dive.
I then enlarged these images and a variety of other photos and screenshots of the YouTube videos and displayed them on my computer monitor, which is about the same size as my canvas. For more about how I use my computer to assist with painting accuracy, see Process in Painting the Eagle III and Method in Day at the beach.
Painted history of hang glider design part 1 (hang gliding being my usual subject)
Parachute lift, my 1/48th scale DHC-2 Otter
Parachuting in Miscellaneous photos (at Thruxton airfield, Hampshire, in 1982)
2013 Wisconsin skydiving mid-air collision Wikipedia entry
AMAZING Skydivers Land Safely After Plane Crash [EXTENDED CUT] on YouTube