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Skydiver lands with dying instructor at his back

  • Story Highlights
  • Daniel Pharr was skydiving in South Carolina when instructor stopped talking
  • Pharr, with unresponsive teacher strapped to his back, guides himself to ground
  • Instructor died, apparently of a heart attack, coroner says
  • Pharr credits Army training with helping him calmly assess situation
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By Robyn Sidersky
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(CNN) -- Daniel Pharr says he was in the middle of his first-ever skydive, thousands of feet over South Carolina, when the instructor strapped to his back stopped talking to him Saturday.

Skydiving instructor George "Chip" Steele was pronounced dead after Saturday's jump.

Army Pvt. Daniel Pharr says he "went into survival mode" when his instructor stopped talking during their skydive.

The instructor, George "Chip" Steele of Skydive Carolina, was later pronounced dead. But as they were falling, Pharr -- an Army soldier taking a private skydiving lesson -- knew only that Steele wasn't responding.

Pharr said he "went into survival mode," using his military training to calm himself as he tried to get to ground safely.

"We're just taught to deal with adversity, whether it be on the battlefront or at home or ... up in the air, and you just do what you have to do -- assess the situation and keep a calm head about you because it doesn't do anybody any good to panic," said Pharr, a private in the Army.

Pharr, able to steer himself only in right circles because he could use only the parachute's right steering mechanism, managed to maneuver away from some obstructions and landed safely in Chester, South Carolina.

When they landed, Pharr attempted CPR, but it was too late. Video Watch Pharr describe what happened »

Steele, 49, appeared to have died of a heart attack, Chester County Coroner Terry Tinker told the Rock Hill (South Carolina) Herald. An autopsy was being conducted Monday.

Everything seemed to be normal at the beginning of the jump, Pharr said. He asked a question and Steele responded. They chatted for a moment in the air, but when Pharr asked another question about 5,500 feet above ground, Steele did not respond.

Pharr asked the question again. When he still got no response, he didn't panic -- he realized to get down safely he had to remain calm, he said.

"The likelihood of you surviving, you know, decreases absolutely amazingly by factors exponentially if you panic," he said.

The skydive was a Christmas gift from Pharr's girlfriend, who he said is now having regrets about it. But Pharr assured her there was no reason for regret.

"It's a lifelong experience now, not to be turned around into a bad thing," he said. "I just hate it for the family."


Pharr -- based at Georgia's Fort Gordon, according to CNN affiliate WJBF -- said his focus was just to get down to the ground and help Steele.

Pharr said his family won't let him go near skydiving again, and he isn't arguing with them.

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