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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 18:48 GMT
Wartime training saves pilot's life
Ron Farnell with his glider
Mr Farnell trained in gliders during army service in 1944
A 76-year-old former soldier put his wartime army training to good use when his glider stalled 365 metres (1,200 feet) above an airfield.

Ron Farnell, 76, refused to panic when his single-seater craft got into trouble as he flew over Camphill airfield in Derbyshire.

The grandfather-of-eight, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, who calls himself "just a little old fella", parchuted to safety.

He jumped out of the glider, groping for his rip-cord before landing in a gully filled with trees which caught his chute and broke his fall.

I landed between the trees and my parachute arrested my fall. I finished about six feet from the ground

Ron Farnell

Mr Farnell said: "I survived because I was trained to cope."

Recalling the moment things started to go wrong, he said: "I felt detached, I thought 'the ground look different from here'.

"I thought how fast I was going and 'where the hell is that rip-cord?'"

At first the flight on Tuesday, 5 March, appeared routine.

Mr Farnell said: "I released from the (tow) cable at about 800 feet and climbed to about 1,200 feet to 1,300 feet. It was nice and smooth, a lovely day.

"Then there was a loud bang and the right steering rudder shot forward.

'Considerable risk'

"Nothing happened straight away so there was no immediate danger."

Ron Farnell
Back in the air - this time in a two seater glider
Mr Farnell said the difficulty came when he tried to turn, and, in order to land the glider, steering was vital.

But his army gliding training from 1944, gave him the confidence and experience to remain calm.

Mr Farnell said: "I decided there were two things I could do.

"I could jump out with some risk and lose the glider or I could try and land with considerable risk. I decided to jump.

"I jettisoned the canopy and climbed out of the front and went out head first.

"As soon as you jump out of a glider it soars up and it went out of sight and disappeared.

"I had my head down but I could not find the rip-cord."

Gliding club logo
Mr Farnell was flying over a Derbyshire club
After a few seconds, Mr Farnell found the critical lifeline but he had drifted away from the Derbyshire and Lancashire Gliding Club airfield and was heading towards a tree-filled gully.

He said: "I landed between the trees and my parachute arrested my fall. I finished about six feet from the ground.

"I grabbed hold of the tree, released my parachute and then climbed down the tree quite safely."

The retired BT worker climbed 30 metres (100 feet) out of the gully to find police and fire services waiting.

'Old fella'

The army veteran suffered a bruised knee, a few scratches and felt slightly faint after his ordeal.

He said: "I am slightly concerned people think this is all daredevil spirits, but really I am just a little old fella."

A Derbyshire Police spokeswoman said: "He managed to parachute to safety and was unharmed. He even walked to the ambulance."

An investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority has been launched.

Mr Farnell is now planning to abandon single-seater gliding in favour of two-seater flying.

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See also:

05 Mar 02 | England
Elderly man survives glider crash
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