KALISPELL (AP) — A skydiver who crashed into a retaining wall while attempting to jump into Washington-Grizzly Stadium before a University of Montana football game this fall is expected to make a full recovery but says he just feels lucky to be alive.
The Daily Inter Lake reports (http://bit.ly/sEIEMi) that Blaine Wright, a 53-year-old rocket engineer and a veteran skydiver, is recuperating at home in Whitefish after the Oct. 29 crash in which a gust of wind blew him off course during the Silvertip Skydivers' popular pre-game jump into the Missoula stadium.
Wright struck the stadium's retaining wall and fell nearly 40 feet to the ground. He suffered a collapsed lung, nerve damage and broke 19 bones, including his pelvis, an arm, the top of his tibia, his hip socket, four ribs and parts of his vertebrae.
Wright spent a week in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and underwent three surgeries. His nights are still sleepless due to the pain, but he says he is grateful.
"I have to focus on how lucky I am," he said. "I came within a hair's breadth of dying. I could have had a head injury or been paralyzed."
He has no memory of the accident except for one detail, when the side of his canopy caught a tree and swung him out and forward.
"That was terrifying. It was a very public way to hurt myself and I hate that so many had to witness it," Wright said.
But he said he has received a mountain of mail from hundreds of Griz fans and well-wishers he didn't even know.
"The outpouring was very humbling. I couldn't appreciate it more," he said. "It honestly made a difference."
Wright first jumped for Silvertip Skydivers in 1974 when he was just 15. He since has helped set seven world records, including the World Team's 400-skydiver formation in Thailand in 2006.
He does contract work for private aerospace manufacturers and defense technology companies, as well as the Missile Defense Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Wright is recovering at home because his high-deductible catastrophic health care insurance policy doesn't cover a stay at a rehabilitation center, nor did it cover his transfer back home to Whitefish. He expressed frustration with the insurance coverage, but said he is lucky to have friends and family to provide 24-hour care.
He has a team of local physicians who are now monitoring his progress. He has slowly weaned himself from the pain medication and hopes to get back on his feet this week. He's been told he can expect a full recovery, but he'll have to learn to walk again.
He said he has not decided whether he will ever skydive again.
"I probably will jump again, but I won't make that decision until I'm healed," he said. "Time will tell."