(Katherine Donahue), or better know as Kat to the flying community, made her last human flight around 9:50 AM on August 11, 2016. The conditions in which she exited from Croix des Têtes in France were calm and peaceful. The hiking approach took a little over 2 hours accompanied by a large group of local jumpers and a few intimate friends. The moving pace was both relaxed and joyful since there was a dense cloud layer which obstructed a clear view of the landing areas below. There was no rush to arrive at the summit until weather conditions improved... Upon arriving at the exit point the groups energy became excited as the clouds parted, allowing for a majestic reveal of the stunning mountainscape around us and the entire flight path to the landing areas.
The group exited the cliff at a relaxed pace while Kat, julie and myself intentionally waited to be the last jumpers. We wanted to fully enjoy the peaceful setting of being on a mountain alone. I had carried two radios with me on the hike to communicate with our group and in case of an emergency. It was decided that I would jump first, Julie second and Katlast, as she insisted she wanted to go last. I exited from the mountain, had a smooth tracking flight and windless landing. Shortly thereafter, I radioed up to Julie and Kat that the conditions were ideal, the wind was very calm and my landing pattern was from right to left at the tracker landing location. The batteries in Kat's radio died shortly after my last communication of conditions (of which I was not aware) and I saw Julie exit from the cliff with a good flight and safe canopy opening.
Approximately 30 seconds after Julie exited, I witnessed Kat push off the cliff cleanly and into a steep track. I was able to clearly watch her body fly for about 7-8 seconds before it disappeared behind a ridge line that concealed a section of the jump. From my perspective, Kat appeared to be flying in a steep trajectory away from the vertical section of wall. I waited to see her emerge around a second notch in the terrain, either still tracking or under canopy depending on her flight decisions. After waiting a couple of minutes I didnt see any evidence that she had cleared the second notch and I began trying to contact her on the radio. With no response after 5 minutes I immediately ran down to where Julie had landed and we attempted to reach Kat twice on her cell phone, leaving messages and updates to our actions and concerns. It was assumed she had either pulled low and was up on the talus, unable to communicate effectively or both devices had been lost or damaged somehow. At that point we called a rescue helicopter to assess the situation from an aerial perspective.
To the best of our knowledge it appears that Kat impacted the top of the first of two notches that a tracker must out fly while tracking Croix des Têtes. After examining her gear and the resting spot of her body we suspect that she died on impact without deploying a parachute or pilot chute. There seems little reason to think there was any case of bridle wrap. Both toggles were still found in the stowed position and the slider remained up. Three of her lines had been broken near the connection point to the canopy, likely from snagging on a tree or cliff edge on the top of the notch. Her initial impact is most likely what caused the parachute to come loose from the container. Based on evidence of minor tears in her track suit, grass and mud stains found on her gear (on both the interior and exterior of her container) we assume she committed to a low flight pattern and attempted to out track the first notch, but was unsuccessful in doing so. Her body then fell to its resting place at the base of the notch/waterfall with her canopy draped over her body. Due to the visibly steep angle of her track and the proximity of the notch where she impacted, she collided at high speed, suggesting no prolonged suffering. Further evidence supports this as her helmet was not found on her head, or anywhere near the body.
Can you help us with incident interpretation? We are interested in any details regarding personal experience, gear, weather conditions and any other circumstances related to the incident.