If there is someone out there who knows how to take a hit, it is Mark “Lucch” Lucchiari. As a professional fighter for 15 years, adept in Muay Thai, he’s turned taking crushing blows into an art form. But, on January 14, 2021, Lucch would meet his match: a mid-air collision that would leave him unconscious and relying on his CYPRES for a fighting chance at survival.
Photos courtesy o Mark “Lucch” Lucchiari
Lucch has been around skydiving since 2006. Although, because of a busy fight schedule, it’s only been in the last 5 years that he could really dedicate time to his hobbies. Since retiring from fighting in 2015, Lucch has spent the last few years getting back into surfing, dirt biking, climbing, canyoning, and of course, skydiving.
The fateful jump where Lucch nearly lost his life was his sixth jump for the day and a sunset big way for his friend’s 1,000th jump. For Lucch, there was nothing particularly unusual about the exit plan or dive flow other than the size of the formation.
“There were 18 of us. Of this load, I was probably one of the most inexperienced. Because of the quality of the jumpers on the load, I had no worries, no ill feelings. I’d done 10 and 12 ways, but I’d actually never done a big way angle this size. To be honest, I didn’t have any concerns. I knew every single person on the jump, and I knew how well they fly.”
At the start of the jump, everything went according to plan.
Photos courtesy of Mark “Lucch” Lucchiari
“I exited and flew straight down to my slot, which was second to the left of my team leader, Mad Dog, and left enough room for one other to slot in between myself and the leader…We were running somewhat steep but not as steep as a lot of these guys could run. For the level of jumpers on this angle, it was quite mild. I remember looking at Mad Dog, and then…”
From the outside observer, the collision happens in the blink of an eye. In an instant, this beautiful sunset skydive became a hazy struggle to survive.
“I was in my slot, and one of the other boys, he was the second to last diver and one of the most experienced on the jump…he dove out and ended up coming in way too fast. He and the last diver out, Luke, were actually joking in the plane about how on big ways you get down to the formation at the end of the jump and how you have to really pin it down to get to it. They had a bit of a laugh about not wanting to miss out on this one and needing to get down there as quickly as possible.
But, when going that speed and covering that much distance, by the time he realized he was coming in too hot and tried to pull out, his knee had hit me in the back of the head. [The collision] knocked me out cold and ruptured every ligament in his knee and caused multiple fractures in his tib, fib, and femur.”
Mark provides a harrowing account of what followed after the collision:
“I have a little memory of being on my back, and I thought what am I on my back for? But it was like a dream. You know when you’re trying to do something but you can’t. I was on my back thinking “why can’t I roll over to my belly?” At some point, I did roll over, but then, I can’t really remember too much more [of the freefall].”
While unconscious, two of the other jumpers from the angle dive fought to save Lucch’s life:
“Two of the other boys who saw me get taken out tried to get down to me. I dropped out of the formation like a rock. Luke gets right up to me, and by then, I’ve flipped back onto my belly. He can see me grabbing my head and my helmet. To him, it looks like I’m trying to do something with my visor or something with my helmet. The impact crushed my G3 into the back of my head. In the footage, you see me get stable, and then start spinning out of control. Luke would get close to me to try to pull my reserve, and then, in the video, it looks like I get a little bit stable. But then, I start flipping out of control again. He tries to fly to me again, and that’s when I start flipping head over feet. He gets to the height at which he has to pitch. He pitches, and I keep falling. It was horrible for him. He’s watching me fall to the ground, and in his audio, you can hear him screaming my name. In the footage, I become this little dark dot, and it looks like I’ve gone in. But all of a sudden, you see this other beautiful little dot: a white canopy.”
It isn’t until just before the reserve parachute deployed that Lucch actually regained consciousness:
“My next bit of clarity is coming to while I’m going through 1,500ft. I remember looking at the ground, seeing the grass and the trees and the road very clearly, and thinking, “I’m going in. Why?”
I was so confused. I really wondered if it was a dream, but I realized it wasn’t. I had this moment of sadness for my wife and my two kids, but I also had this moment of contentment as well. But then, all of a sudden, I had this little feeling like no, it’s not over yet. Don’t give up yet.
I had my cutaway handle in my hand, and in my footage, you see me pass it from my right hand, to my left hand, and then back again I’m holding it in front of my face, trying to figure it out. I was so disoriented that I didn’t complete my emergency procedures. I’d cutaway and not pulled my reserve. I was actually quite disappointed in myself that I didn’t do that.
Because I didn’t realize that I hadn’t pulled my reserve. I thought maybe my reserve was stuck on my back. I started reaching behind me, and that’s when the CYPRES fired and my reserve started deploying. On my Dekunu altimeter, the data is incredible. The CYPRES fires at 750 feet. The Dekunu registered the first speed change at 529 feet, and then it registered my canopy finally fully inflating and starting to move forward at 126 feet.
I do remember [the reserve] opening but was still so disoriented and confused that I didn’t do any inputs at all, and the canopy ride was only about 3 seconds. [Where I landed] was right beside a main road with a treeline on the left side and power lines on the right that I barely miss. But somehow, miraculously, I land on this beautiful bit of green grass. Once I land, I see Roger coming in hot [under canopy]. He looks like he hits pretty hard so I yell, “You alright buddy?” and he comes running over, and says “Am I alright!? Are you alright!?” That’s when I asked him what happened.
Luke had also landed by that time and was running toward a farmer’s house screaming to call an ambulance. Everything started to click, and I realized I’ve had an accident. I rip my helmet off, and it’s full of blood. Based on the looks on their faces, I was worried my head was crushed in. They told me to stay on the ground. After a few moments, I asked Roger if it was that bad. He looked at me and said, no, it actually looks pretty good, just a gash on the back of your head.”
Back at the dropzone, it hadn’t quite sunk in yet that something nearly horrific had happened, and Lucch estimates that about 90% of the people on the jump hadn’t realized how dire the collision nearly was. It wasn’t until the jumper who hit Lucch landed with his leg severely injured that those on the jump began to piece together what happened.
Undoubtedly, the accident could have been far worse. In Lucch’s words, “for as bad as it was, it couldn’t have gone any better.” Even those within the industry might assume that an accident like Lucch’s would potentially turn him off to the sport of skydiving, but it hasn’t.
“It did the opposite. It’s given me more of a drive to live a larger and fuller life because you never know when it’s your time. Although, I do think we get a little complacent…and something like this [accident] is a reminder: things can happen”
One of the most apparent reasons that there was not a grave end to this account is because of Lucch’s decision to own and use a CYPRES. To Lucch, this choice was a no-brainer.
“I’ve always had a CYPRES, and I actually just purchased a new CYPRES in 2019. It’s the main choice here in Australia. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but it certainly is here. There were no second guesses: I wanted a CYPRES. I had borrowed gear before that had a different AAD in it, and I never really liked using them. I’m super thankful for super-smart people that create these types of things. It’s way above my pay grade. But look, it saved my life. That and my pack job from my buddy Jeff Weatherall. There’s no question it saved my life. I had nothing to do with it. It was all CYPRES.”
Within a movement discipline, the margin of error is small. As Lucch’s account shows, even when those involved are skilled, freak accidents can still happen. Luckily, with the combination of a modicum of luck, a great pack job from his rigger, and Lucch’s choice in a CYPRES, he was able to return to the sky merely 9 days after the accident and has been jumping every weekend since.