Kingswood parachutist Dave Coveney has heart attack 12,000 feet up
by Chris Hunter
When he had a heart attack at 12,000ft, it looked like veteran parachutist Dave Coveney had leapt his last.
But Headcorn's own team of action heroes leapt into unknown territory to save their stricken colleague.
The Headcorn Parachute Club team were approaching 12,000ft and preparing to dive from their plane when the 74-year-old veteran of 1,600 jumps collapsed in front of them - prompting a race against time to get the Kingswood man back down to earth while instructors Bernard Devine, Del Hopkins and Clem Quinn battled to keep him alive.
Chief instructor Peter Sizer, who rushed out with a defibrillator to meet the group as they landed, described the drama.
"He keeled over while they were in the plane," said Mr Sizer, from Biddenden.
"Very quickly, the staff realised this wasn't good. The plane descended immediately, and as it did the staff were doing CPR. The pilot called for the ambulance."
On board the plane were also five tandem parachute students, together with instructors and cameramen.
Mr Sizer added: "When it landed we off-loaded everybody apart from the casualty. We had to shock him and continue CPR until the ambulance crew turned up.
"It's the first time we've used the defibrillator in anger, but that's what it's
"If he had been out of the plane it would have been ages before we found him…” – instructor Peter Sizer
there for. It's a brilliant piece of kit.
"They kept him going with enough oxygen so when we got him down the defibrillator could do its job. It took four shocks.
"We thought we had lost him and then he started breathing. The machine was saying continue CPR and when the ambulance crew came they said 'keep doing that', then they took him off - they were full of praise for the guys on the plane."
Mr Sizer said the instructors were trained in first aid, but this was the first time they had faced such a critical mid-air emergency.
"They were outstanding," he added.
Mr Coveney, of Ashford Drive, Kingswood, was taken by land ambulance to William Harvey Hospital, in Ashford, where he was recovering this week.
His chances of survival would have been next to nil if his heart attack had come any later or anywhere else than directly in front of the team.
"If he had been out of the plane it would have been ages before we found him," said Mr Sizer. "The reserve parachute would have opened, but he would have disappeared off and we would have had to find him."
The flying first-aiders of Headcorn were given special praise by South East Coast Ambulance Service for their speedy skills.
Paramedic Graham Wilson said: "The guys in the plane did a fantastic job in starting CPR and also helping us on the ground when they landed.
"The pilot stopped the plane quickly and the defibrillator at the aerodrome was fetched straight away.
"All this quick thinking undoubtedly saved this man's life and enabled us to continue the successful resuscitation.
"The fact that the patient's temperature had dropped because of being up in the air could also have helped as this can aid recovery. Myself and my colleague Ian wish him a speedy recovery and thank everyone for their help on the day. They should be very proud of their actions."