Woman Survives 13,500 Foot Fall After Skydiving Accident – & Wants To Skydive Again
| LAST UPDATE 05/25/2022
Doctors call her a living miracle. After falling from a plane at a speed of 125 mph, this skydiver sustained several injuries. But somehow, she managed to make it out stronger. Here's her incredible story.
In 2015, Jordan Hatmaker decided to get on a plane and skydive for the very first time in her life. She had no idea how much she would love the adrenaline rush. It was definitely not her last time jumping out of a plane.
The Virginia Beach native was so obsessed with the feeling she got deploying a parachute that she vowed to get her own license in skydiving. It was a decision that would change the course of her life... but not exactly in the way that Hatmaker had hoped.
Getting Her License
"I loved the challenge and conquering my fears, and it really instilled confidence in me," she said of her love for skydiving. Being an instructor herself would mean that Hatmaker didn't need to rely on another person to jump out of a plane nearly 13,000 to 14,000 feet up in the air.
Over time she had accumulated many practice jumps. Each time was more exciting than the next. Hatmaker had truly fallen in love with the activity (pun unintended). She was thriving as a daredevil, that was until one day, her dreams of getting a license quickly vanished.
Once Hatmaker had a passion for something, she committed to it. Before embarking on her skydiving adventure, she was active in many charity funds. After one of her close friend's daughters sadly passed away, she urged family and friends to donate as much as they could to the Eliza Hope Foundation.
The foundation was "to provide educational support for children and families who are living with Autism Spectrum disorders." The 35-year-old also supported the No Dogs Left Behind Inc. fundraiser -with the goal of "rescues[ing] dogs headed for slaughter in countries that still do this horrific practice," according to Hatmaker.
It was no secret that Hatmaker was a selfless woman with many passions. But when it came time to do something for herself, she was ready. Her journey into skydiving was just beginning. With each jump, she learned more and more about the techniques and the equipment.
By November 14, 2021, she was so close to completing her course to finally becoming a licensed skydiver. By then, she was even able to jump all alone. "On my 16th solo jump as an AFF student with only 1 more level to get my A license," she explained to her Instagram followers.
But unknowingly to her, that was, unfortunately, going to be her final jump for a while. On the way down from her leap, Hatmaker realized that something had gone completely wrong - but by then, it was already too late to stop the inevitable from happening.
Around 10 seconds after jumping off the plane, Hatmaker moved away from her coach because, after all, it was a solo fall. At that point, it was time to release the parachute, a.k.a. the cloth canopy that allows skydivers to slowly fall down to the ground. But that's when things took a sudden turn.
When Hatmaker went to pull the cord to release the parachute, she suddenly noticed that the pilot chute - the smaller one that comes out before the main parachute - was wrapped around her leg. "I had a high-speed malfunction called a horseshoe," she recalled.
Due to this horrific accident, the canopy was unable to do its job. The skydiver's leg was hanging in the air, with nothing slowing her fall down. She was going extremely fast, at a speed of roughly 125 mph. Luckily, she finally managed to free her leg from the chute. But her worries were far from over.
A Race Against Time
The thrust from the release caused the main canopy to launch, which regrettably caused Hatmaker to go down even faster. Now, both the parachutes were flying away from each other, causing a "down plane" to occur. "Everything happened really quickly," Jordan recalled about the terrifying event.
At the moment, all that was on her mind was how to land safely. But things were going at a speed that was too difficult for her to keep up with. Hatmaker explained, "I didn't have any thoughts because I was spiraling, so I didn't know what was going on. I was just in strategy mode."
Instead of panicking, Hatmaker stayed conscious and alert, trying to do anything she could to help herself. "I regained a bit of control & was able to semi-steer myself away from the runway. @ ~ 300ft, my main deployed too, sending me into an accelerated downplane spiral," she relived the moment.
And before she knew it, she was on the ground. Remarkably through all that, the skydiver had not passed out. But maybe she wished she would have. "Once I hit the ground, I prayed relentlessly," she said. As she lay there, unable to move, a million thoughts started racing through her head.
"First, I tried to push myself off the ground, and when I couldn't move anything, my first thought was I was paralyzed, and I was yelling that out," she remembered. "I've never heard sounds like those come out of my body. I screamed bloodcurdling screams."
She was terrified for her future. "I couldn't feel anything below my waist. I knew I was paralyzed." Hatmaker detailed exactly how her fall to the ground happened. "I hit with my left leg first, and then I bounced off of my butt and faceplanted, and that's how I broke my back."
Around 20 seconds after pulling her release cord, Hatmaker was on the ground. Thankfully it didn't take too long before people were rushing to her side. But as she laid there for five minutes all alone in shock, all Hatmaker could think about was her pain.
"There was just extreme burning through my lower back and down my legs," the thrill-seeker revealed. Then all of a sudden, an air ambulance picked her up and took her to a local hospital as fast as they could. Finally, she was at the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. But her journey was far from over.
Assessing the Injuries
The hospital staff surrounded Hatmaker and tried to do as much as they could to reduce her pain. "They gave me a LOT of medicine!" she reminisced. Slowly the doctors eventually made an assessment of what injuries she had sustained during her horrid fall from the plane.
She had broken the majority of her lower back, her tibia, and her ankle, and she also suffered a spinal cord injury. "When my back broke, some of the pieces of my vertebrae went into my spinal canal." Her pain was so severe that she could hardly even feel the skin on her body or even move her legs on her own. She was terrified.
There was no time to wait, and Hatmaker was rushed into surgery so that the experts could attempt to heal her as quickly as possible. Firstly, they had to decompress her spinal cord, and only after that could they perform spinal fusion surgery and remove the bone fragments.
But while it was a major procedure, that was just one small step towards her road to recovery. Unfortunately, Hatmaker had a long way to go. Two days after being admitted to the hospital, she was already on her way to her second surgery to repair her other wounds.
Road To Recovery
This time the doctors were repairing her broken tibia and ankle. After that, Hatmaker spent nearly an entire month lying down in that hospital bed. She was devastated about what had happened - especially since it meant canceling the two-week hiking trip she had planned before.
She was supposed to go on her adventure of climbing Mount Everest just three days after the horrible fall. But instead, she was working towards her recovery of getting her full mobility back so that she could be back on her feet in no time at all. But doctors weren't hopeful...
A Miraculous Outcome
"They said we don't know what kind of mobility she's going to have, but they didn't think I was going to be paralyzed because I could wiggle my toes," she explained what the experts said. But throughout it all, she felt deep in her heart that one day she would be able to walk again.
Yet that didn't make things any easier for her. Each time she attempted to move her legs and it didn't work, she would become frustrated and yell at her body parts to start working. The only way for her to actually start moving on her own was through working hard - and luckily, Hatmaker was someone who didn't give up.
Her positive attitude helped push her body to limits it seemed incapable of reaching at that point. "I was very thankful to be alive, that was my thought I had most often," she recalled. "I had a lot of hope in that I would walk again, even though I couldn't lift my legs or move them back and forth."
"I had a lot of hope that I would do everything I wanted to do again." Hatmaker had no plans of changing her way of life just because of this heartbreaking accident. She was determined to one day be able to get out of that hospital bed all on her own. But the obstacles had just begun.
Stuck in Bed
"It was my Mount Everest before my Mount Everest!" she said. "It was just one big mountain to get me ready for the next." For the next 15 days, she did not leave that hospital bed. Everything was done in that spot, including bathing and using the restroom.
Finally, after almost 2 weeks, Hatmaker was able to get herself up! "That moment, I could only lift it maybe half an inch off the bed, but it was just so great to conquer a milestone. It was a sign of progress, and I was really thrilled and excited. It just gave me more motivation to keep going."
Feeling the Love
Her advancements weren't the only thing that kept Hatmaker motivated to keep going. Throughout her entire recovery, her family and friends were right by her side, cheering her on. She even shared a sweet photo of her brother at the hospital on her Instagram.
"Looks like my bro was performing some sort of good luck rain dance in front of my bed," Hatmaker captioned the post. "pic: (11/15/21) I had to wait in ER bed for about 14 hours before neurosurgery. Definitely one of the worst days," she confessed.
But despite the bad days in recovery, her silly attitude stayed intact. Hatmaker constantly updated her Instagram followers with progress pictures. In the picture below, she captioned the photo, "Def one of the best pics I've ever taken. Don't judge, I was trying to make a funny face & only had my eyes to work with!"
And, of course, she always kept her fans up to date with her medical procedures, "pic: (11/17/21) I had to be on oxygen because I wasn't pulling in enough o2 & was starting to get atelectasis (partial collapse of my lungs which is pretty common apparently)."
Thankfully, she was also surrounded by an amazing medical support system, which of course, she never took for granted. "Thank God for nurses," Hatmaker gushed. After all, spending three weeks in a hospital meant she had gotten close to many of the staff members.
"I seriously had the most amazing nurses, doctors, PAs, PTs, OTs & nurse assistants," she revealed. "Even got to know the people who delivered the meals & cleaned my room. I don't know how you guys do what you do and see what you see... Y'all are the real heroes!"
After 7 days in the ICU, the skydiver accident survivor was moved to the Intermediate Trauma floor. And she was quite excited about it: "pic: (11/21/21) Stoked to be moved down a level to the trauma floor. Also, I did not wear pants at all for 3 weeks," she teased.
Until one day, she was given the green light to finally go home. But just because she was stuck in that hospital bed anymore didn't mean that her road to recovery was over. In fact, it was just the beginning of one of the hardest parts of her journey.
“It’s Amazing What Can Change”
For two months after her release, she continued to go through an immense amount of physical therapy. She never gave up. And finally, three months post-accident, Hatmaker was able to take her very first steps. "I started walking three months to the day of the accident."
It was an incredible moment in her rehabilitation journey - from going days with no movement at all to finally being able to have control over her own body. And a lot of that change came from her patience. "NOTE TO SELF: Be patient with yourself. It's amazing what can change in only a day or two," she shared.
Finding a Silver Lining
Hatmaker admitted to her Instagram followers how difficult her process of gaining her mobility back was. "My body was so weak, just sitting up took everything out of me. I laid back down & cried after they [physical therpaists] left feeling like a failure & wanting more than anything to leave the 4 walls of my hospital room."
5 months later, walking and moving on her own, Hatmaker revealed that she was grateful for the experiences that brought her to where she is today. "Every day means so much more after they almost get taken away from you." She learned to always find "the silver lining in whatever situation you're in."
"Opportunity In Tragedy"
If it hadn't been for this experience, Hatmaker might have never known the limits she could push herself. "You never know how strong you are until you have to be, don't underestimate yourself," she assured. "I feel like there's a like lot of growth that came out of it, and I really think there's opportunity in tragedy."
There's no doubt that Hatmaker is one strong woman! At first, doctors had no idea if she was gonna be able to move her legs, but look where she is now! "The doctors continue to tell me how miraculous it is I escaped only with the injuries I have," she reminded her supporters online.
Even five months after the incident, Hatmaker still had difficulties. She continued to face many ramifications due to her spinal cord injury. The survivor often felt numbness and nerve pain and still dealt with pelvic floor dysfunction. But once again, she didn't let these hold her back.
"Super excited about my progress, but not gonna lie… I had a little setback today," she admitted back in April 2022. "I called the neurosurgeon's office to make sure I can 'do anything I want' moving forward," she explained. "They called & told me I still shouldn't lift more than 5 lbs, bend, or twist…"
Plans To Jump Again
Despite falling 13,500 feet from the sky, Hatmaker is persistent about going back up on a plane... and jumping! "Don't tell my family!" she teased. "We'll see what happens when I get to the plane door!" She's even been practicing in a wind tunnel for when that day eventually comes.
And that's not the only thing she's ready to pursue again. Hatmaker admitted she still wants to climb the Everest basecamp - something she had planned to do before she was almost paralyzed from the waist down. But luckily for her, she made a miraculous recovery.
“Blessed by My Accident”
Her story is truly remarkable, and she continues to inspire hundreds of people daily with her determination to keep going! "You can always find something positive even if you can't see it now, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and you're going to be better for whatever you're going through."
"It may sound crazy to say, but I have been incredibly blessed by my accident," the skydiving survivor revealed. "Even if everything doesn't return to 100%, I will forever see this time in my life as a monumental catalyst to become the very best version of myself, so I can serve others in some way."
One way she tried to help out others is by spreading awareness of other spinal cord injuries that sadly happen. "Only .0001% of people in the United States have SCIs. I believe this plays a huge part of why spinal cord injury survivors like to connect with each other," she said.
A girl Hatmaker connected with was Abby, a 5-year-old girl who suffered was left paralyzed from the waist down after she was involved in a car accident. "It sucks that spinal cord injuries brought us together, but if I have to be in this club, I'm incredibly honored to be in it with a brave little warrior like Abby," she gushed.
Sadly, Hatmaker isn't the only person who has fallen out of a plane. Many others have experienced a similar situation. Back in 2018, Emma Carey was traveling through Switzerland when she decided to embark on the thrilling adventure of going skydiving.
But as she was going down, the then 20-year-old noticed she was free-falling for longer than anticipated. When she turned to look at her instructor on her back, she noticed their parachute wasn't released. The awful incident left her paralyzed. But through hard work, she was eventually able to walk again.
When Elijah Arranz was just 14 years old, he jumped out of a plane alongside a skilled skydiver, 44-year-old Tony Rokov. The sky was clear when they first took off, but suddenly a rush of wind caused their parachute to deflate. And just like that, they were free-falling to the ground.
In a heroic move, Rokov wrapped his body around the teenage boy, giving him a cushion between the ground and his body. Luckily, his courageous act was what saved Arranz's life, but sadly it was what took his. "This man lost his life to save mine. Tony, I will continue to push myself more every day to make you proud," he gushed.
On Makenzie Wethington's 16th birthday, her dad gifted her with a skydiving opportunity. She was so excited to go into the sky, but sadly not long after she jumped out of the plane, things started to go horribly wrong. Although her parachute inflated, it started to spin uncontrollably.
Along with the canopy, the teenage girl also spun around in the air at a speed of 80 mph. Luckily, because the chute deployed, she didn't hit the ground in a free fall - but she still suffered severe injuries from the malfunction. Thankfully the incident didn't take her life, and today she is completely recovered.